College of the Holy Cross Brings Civic Discourse Back to the Classroom

By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU

 Tim Bishop (left) and Peter Flaherty lecture together during a recent class at the College of the Holy Cross (photo courtesy of John Hill, College of the Holy Cross)

Tim Bishop (left) and Peter Flaherty lecture together during a recent class at the College of the Holy Cross (photo courtesy of John Hill, College of the Holy Cross)

A former Democratic member of Congress and a Republican campaign strategist walk into a classroom at a Jesuit liberal-arts institution. This may sound like the set up to a joke, but the reality is not a laughing matter.

These individuals are Tim Bishop and Peter Flaherty: two alumni of the College of the Holy Cross, who returned to their alma mater this fall to co-teach an undergraduate course on the mid-term elections and campaign management.

Bishop is a 1972 graduate who served as the representative of New York’s first Congressional district for twelve years, after a distinguished career in higher education, including the position of provost at Southampton College. Flaherty is a 1987 graduate who served as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts before taking on the role of top strategist for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012. Both Bishop and Flaherty bring decades of experience, from both sides of the aisle, to their roles as co-teachers in Worcester, MA every Tuesday afternoon.

The class came about after Bishop spent a day guest lecturing at Holy Cross in spring 2018. He stayed in touch with several faculty and administrators and worked with them over the next few months to create an upper-level political science class, with an internship component, that would be offered in the fall. Flaherty had also spent time guest lecturing at Holy Cross and learned about the opportunity to team-teach with Bishop from Daniel Klinghard, Ph.D., a professor of political science and director of the College’s J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World.

Bishop said, “Ultimately, over the course of multiple conversations, we developed the idea for a hands-on class that would focus on the mid-term elections, but would also require the students in the class to do a campaign-related internship. We also recognized that this was going to be something that, given our desire for this to be scrupulously non-partisan, would be best to team-teach.”

All but two of the class sessions are taught by Bishop and Flaherty together (one week was taught by just Bishop and one week was taught by just Flaherty). Flaherty said, “It works great because I think we both bring similar types of backgrounds and experiences. We come at it from different political parties so we may bring different philosophical perspectives and we may see things through a different ideological lens, which I think is healthy for the students when it comes to approaching a particular policy subject or any kind of political debate.”

The course is designed to be intentionally non-partisan, and both Bishop and Flaherty have been pleased by the thoughtful discussion inside of their classroom. For Carter Mitchell, a senior Political Science major, this has been one of the most gratifying aspects of the class. She said, “I was initially drawn to take this course based on the unique perspectives that both professors would bring to the class. Representing both sides of the political aisle, the two balance each other out while enabling lively discussion among students who are participating in various campaigns.”

Students secured their internships on campaigns or with political-affiliated organizations over the summer, with assistance from Klinghard and Maryanne Finn, coordinator of semester programs and academic internships at the J.D. Power Center. In addition to the internship, the course requires students to pay close attention to the news cycle. Flaherty said, "We assigned ten Senate races to teams of two students, who have to report on them every week: what's going on with the race; what would they do if they were one candidate over another; what would be their strategy to win and how might that strategy change from week to week."

Students were deliberately assigned races that are seen as the most important or "toss ups" in this election cycle, and have learned how current events may affect their races. On November 13, one week after the election, Bishop and Flaherty will open the class to the public for a "post-mortem" with leading Democrat and Republican pollsters serving as guest lecturers to offer their take on the results (the October 30 class will also be open to the public, and will focus on potential outcomes). The final few weeks of the class will focus on possible implications of the election on policy, and consider the impact of a new or unchanged majority in both the House and the Senate.

At a time when civic (and civil) discourse is fraught with tension, a Jesuit classroom may be just the right venue to bring students from opposing political viewpoints together. This past summer, the newly-launched International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) convened working groups to address six critical issues facing society today. One of the groups issued a position paper on civic and political leadership, which states:

“The growth of nationalism, populism, racism and authoritarianism in many parts of the world threatens efforts to bring humanity together to face the common challenges of the 21st century. The education of rising generations with a global solidarity mindset has never been more important. And the Society of Jesus, with its more than 450-year-old global horizon and tradition of education for the common good, is positioned to make a distinctive contribution.”

As a member of the IAJU, Holy Cross is committed to fostering civic and political leadership. Offering a class that takes a non-partisan approach to elections and campaign management is one way that the College demonstrates that commitment, and prepares students to become future leaders rooted in ethics and civility. Mitchell, the senior political science major, said, “The Jesuit mission entails engaging with people of all cultures, values and faiths, and I believe civil conversations with peers and professors within the classroom and beyond, has enabled me to understand various viewpoints. It is crucial in our course to respect the political views of our peers and professors, and engage in thoughtful discussions. This course has helped foster Jesuit values to be men and women for others, while remaining open-minded citizens.”

For Bishop and Flaherty, the benefits of this course go beyond teaching students how to manage a campaign. Bishop said, "I hope our students recognize that Peter and I come to our positions on lots of issues from entirely different places and that we are able to present our positions and explore our differences in a fashion that is highly civil and collegial.” As alumni of Holy Cross, Bishop and Flaherty have been motivated by their Jesuit education to lead lives in service of others, and to help inspire future generations of leaders.