Professors Ask: “What Happened?”

Professors Ask:

Audrey Melick

The 2008 election has drawn to a close, with Senator Barack Obama elected as the future President of the United States of America. Some may be inclined to put the past year of campaigning and voting behind them. For college students, it may be particularly tempting to celebrate the victory, or not, and then get back to the daily grind of work and classes. But not everyone. In fact, a good number of faculty and students met Wednesday to discuss the outcome of a presidential election considered by many to be historic and significant in a number of respects. Held in the Persson Hall Auditorium, the post-election discussion entitled “What Happened?” was hosted by the Political Science department, but faculty of all departments and students of all majors and academic interests were welcome to attend.

Associate Professor of Political Science Nina Moore, coordinator of “What Happened?” pointed out that such discussions can be helpful and informative because there are essential aspects of the election process for a voter to take into account both before and after an election.

“The most important thing for a voter to consider before going to the polls is which issues are most important to him or her, which candidate has demonstrated the judgment and experience necessary to best govern those issues, and whether the membership of the candidate’s political party is poised to push the candidate’s agenda forward,” she said. “After going to the polls, it’s important for voters to monitor whether the candidate has lived up to her promise and to develop an informed sense of why she has or has not — so as to help lay the groundwork for the next round of election decisions.”

Though it may be too early to observe whether Barack Obama has kept the promises he made to the American public during his campaign, faculty and students had no trouble coming up with topics and questions at the discussion. The forum was kicked off by student members of Democracy Matters giving a brief overview of what happened Wednesday night. Next, sixteen members of a selected panel, comprised mostly of political science professors, each shared their personal thoughts on the election process and the nation’s current political situation. Topics covered included the financial crisis, the status of the Republican and Democratic parties, U.S. foreign policy, Obama’s campaign strategies versus McCain’s and the significance of young voters. Not only was the subject matter diverse, the opinions shared by panel members varied as well, providing a series of intense and thought-provoking discussions. The panel then proceeded to take questions from the audience, which was comprised mostly of students, but also faculty from various departments. Some questions asked pertained to climate change, the global economy, the current economic recession and the high young-voter turnout in Wednesday’s election.

The enthusiasm that students brought into yesterday’s discussions mirrored Professor Moore’s depiction of the role of young people in the recent election.

“This election [was] more important than most because the country is presently at war and, at the same time, facing an economic crisis. Except insofar as they may negatively impact future job or educational opportunities, I don’t think these crises disproportionately impact young people any more so than other individuals who are currently losing their homes, jobs, and retirement savings,” Moore said. “What is unique on the youth front, instead, is a renewed sense among young people as to what they can do as a voting block. In the past, younger citizens have been less likely to register and vote. . . This election has clearly upset the conventional wisdom regarding age and political power. More than that, young people have infused into this election a level of hopeful enthusiasm and positive energy that is arguably unmatched by any other.”

When asked how Colgate’s political activeness compares to other colleges and universities, Moore replied “Colgate students are more diversified than most when it comes to utilizing their voice and energies.” No college campus is perfectly politically represented, however. Though both the Republican and Democratic parties are well-represented on campus — each of them has a Student Government Organization recognized group — Moore pointed out that Colgate could “benefit from a less dichotomous organizational and ideological framework, and aim for greater representation of the middle.” This “middle,” she argued, makes up about a third of all American voters at large.

Even though Colgate may have a few improvements to make when it comes to political representation, the successful turnout of “What Happened?” displayed the overt enthusiasm and dedication of the student body concerning political issues.