The impeachment investigation and subsequent senate trial of President Donald Trump dominated headlines and fueled many opinions the last several months. And while the process ended on Feb. 5 with the acquittal of President Trump, one UA Little Rock political science professor is still using the latest presidential impeachment trial to teach students in her classroom.
Impeachment, as it is outlined in the Constitution and expanded upon in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, is typically discussed in the Constitution chapter of UA Little Rock’s Presidency class, as well as the chapter on Presidents and the Courts. But Dr. Margaret Scranton, a university political science professor and current instructor of the presidency class, was able to expand on the topic of impeachment due to its impact.
“I realized that two really important political processes were underway during the first month of class,” Scranton said. “And that we needed to spend time on those as they unfolded.”
That other important process she described is the 2020 Election campaign. Giving students multiple topic options for the assignment was a conscious choice by Scranton.
“I wanted students to be able to opt-out of dealing with impeachment for whatever reason and to provide an option for people more interested in electoral politics,” Scranton said.
Whether their topic was impeachment or the 2020 Election, students in her class were required to identify a theme or question associated with their topic and gather 20 pages of evidence into an online Wiki which ultimately answered their theme or question.
Setting the assignment as a wiki avoided frequent class discussions which could put students at risk, Scranton said.
“Given the volatility and hyperpolarization of opinion about this President, I did not want to hold regular discussions in an online class,” Scranton said. “It’s too risky for students to feel that what they write might be copied and posted on someone’s social media and then move on to other media.”
Scranton has years of experience incorporating current events into her classes and even taught about impeachment in her Clinton Presidency course, which aired on C-SPAN.
“We can’t understand a president’s choices and the wider policy-making process if we don’t follow issues from their birth through getting to government and then how [the] government decides what to do or not to do,” Scranton said.
Dr. Joseph Giammo, an associate professor at the School of Public Affairs, hasn’t extensively discussed impeachment in his current classes but also values the importance of using current events in the classroom.
“It’s important to use examples that students can relate to in order to help them understand the concepts we are talking about,” Giammo said. “My goal is to help them be able to analyze issues and events from a political science perspective, not from a partisan perspective.”
That partisan perspective is tricky at times but guiding the class back on course if the discussion turns is usually successful, Giammo said.
Despite the difficulties partisan politics can cause in the classroom, Giammo doesn’t discredit the partisan perspective entirely.
“I tell them there is nothing wrong with having a partisan perspective,” Giammo said. “It’s entirely appropriate in some settings. It’s also important, though, to be able to set that aside and analyze things from a different perspective when the partisan one is not appropriate or is even destructive to our ability to understand what is going on.”
Due to the nature of the current political climate, there is always a risk when discussing current issues in a political science classroom. Despite those risks, Scranton believes conversations about current issues are necessary.
“The central concept of my discipline, power – who has it, who uses it, and to what ends,” Scranton said. “Is at the heart of every discussion of issues.”