I hope readers will indulge some personal nostalgia today….
Last Saturday, I posted grades for the students of my final class as a college professor. The semester was surreal –for the first time, I taught remotely, and to be honest, I hated it. In normal times, when I teach, I walk around the class asking questions, looking for puzzled faces that tell me I need to back up and explain something more clearly…I meet with students outside of class to answer questions/concerns. I get to know them.
None of that happens virtually.
That said, I was really pleased with my graduate students’ performance. My midterm is something of a killer, and several did poorly on it. But their research papers and especially their final exams were almost uniformly excellent. The midterm is intended to determine whether they understand constitutional provisions and–more importantly–can apply them correctly to “real world” fact situations.
The final is intended to determine whether they understand what government is for. Below is this year’s version.
There are three essay questions in this take-home final examination. Choose one of them to answer. Your answer should not exceed three (3) typed, double-spaced pages.
I. Earth has been destroyed in World War III. You and a few thousand others—representing a cross-section of Earth’s races, cultures and religions—are the only survivors. You have escaped to an earthlike planet, and are preparing to establish a new society. You want to avoid the errors of the Earth governments that preceded you. What institutional choices do you make and why? You should consider:
A. The type/structure of government you would create;
B. The powers it will have;
C. The limits on its powers, and how those limits will be enforced;
D. How government officials will be chosen and policies enacted;
E. The social and political values you intend to privilege.
II. It is 2020 in an alternate universe, and you have been elected President of the United States. You are following an administration that has made significant—even monumental—changes to American public policies and democratic norms. Which of those changes would you accept and follow, if any? Which would you change? (I am not looking for exhaustive lists; choose one or two areas to discuss, and justify your decision to accept or reject the current administration’s approach.) For each policy you would retain or reverse, explain why it is or is not supportive of the common good and/or consistent with American Constitutional values.
III. During every American election season, there will be a number of candidates from the business sector running for public office who have neither studied public administration nor previously served in a governmental agency or government position of any kind. They usually argue—and many Americans will agree—that success in a private business venture is a qualification for public office, that the skills that are necessary to success in the private sector are transferable—that they are the same skills that will enable them to be successful public servants. Do you agree or disagree with this assertion? Why?
You may make use of any materials you wish in composing your answers. Organization, grammar and spelling, and clarity will count, as will the originality and persuasiveness of your essay.
The essays I received were unusually perceptive. Almost all of them explicitly addressed the responsibility of government to provide for the general welfare/common good, and the similarities and differences between public and private sector values. The new world governments they created, their critiques of policies of the “preceding” (Trump) Administration (students who chose #2 were uniformly–and highly–critical), and their ability to distinguish between private sector skills that would or would not qualify someone for public service were all excellent.
It was a reassuring response to exit on.
So–I have now retired after spending the last 22 years at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. (It was my 5th and last “career”). Aside from continuing this blog, I’m really not sure how I will spend my time. There are things I won’t miss–many of the bureaucratic elements of academic life–but I will really miss interacting with students.
As I learned from leaving my prior work lives, such departures are bittersweet…..
They are also inevitable. Happy Holidays.