Most students desire the least amount of class time attainable. Sometimes 50 minutes can seem like hours and an hour and 15 minutes like days. So when I arrived early to Politics and the Mass Media, a class lasting two hours and 40 minutes and found the room teeming with students, I was surprised. The lecture hall seemed nearly filled to capacity, a situation I, as an English and Political Science major, infrequently experience. Yet, here were over 80 University students willing to sit in the same position, listening to the same professor, on the same subject for almost three hours.

Peering around the room while awaiting the arrival of Professor Peter Regenstreif, I surveyed the anxious crowd. Interspersed among the waiting class members were groups of laughing young adults as well as solitary students. Unlike many other upper-level courses there was no general trend in student type; in attendance were those wearing shirts carrying Greek letters, baseball teams, band names and finely pressed pleats.

The variety of students that greeted me upon entering the class strayed from my expectations. In scanning the course description and prior years’ syllabi, I had formed a notion of what the course would be. With topics ranging from local television news to the political commercial, I predicted an intimate setting for discussion by very opinionated individuals. The large variety of different students in a room apparently structured for lectures was far from this prediction.

I was curious as to how the class would analyze “the institutions of opinion formation and the behavior of political and mass media elites,” as the registrar verbosely told me it would.

My confusion was further established with the arrival of Professor Regenstreif. An older gentleman dressed in a neat suit and tie, he quietly strode down the steps to the front of the room, passing a wave of silence over those present. Striking an intimidating figure, he seemed stereotypically ready to begin a disciplined lecture rather than conduct a class hinged on opinion. Yet, upon opening his mouth to speak, this impression was quickly shattered. Sprinkled with a soft Canadian accent and some minor offensive words, his speech engaged the class immediately with a humor unusual for a professor.

“I will take rotten shots at Cheney and sometimes Bush,” he said as the day’s discussion began. “They are both bums.” However, he quickly assured the class he wasn’t partial to Democrats either; the Professor had, in fact, worked for various Republican politicians. Along with this warning he guaranteed that those agitated by his claims would always have time to air their grievances in a rebuttal.

Leaning against a table in front of the chalkboard, Regenstreif proved this promise by turning the discussion to the class, asking them about the news in that day’s paper. He prompted the students to provide the prevalent headlines present on the front page. Then he demanded why these stories were important to class members, if they were at all. Timidly at first, then with more exuberance, people offered their own opinions, relating insights to their own lives.

Satisfied with the class’ involvement, the instructor moved from his position to behind the podium while explaining that this session of “what’s the lead?” would be a facet of every weekly lesson. To truly understand politics as it relates to the media, he explained, the material must be connected to our younger generation and what is happening today. He demonstrated the equally important role of lecture on theories and data as he spoke of the vital components of public opinion. But again he reverted to topical conversation and comical anecdotes to supplement the information he fed to the class.

Recognizing the sizable body of students he was teaching, Regenstreif admitted that each person was experiencing a different lecture. By prompting conversation on political activity occurring outside the classroom, he was calling upon each student to think on every topic. Throughout the class period each individual seemed to respond to this technique, engaging in some manner in the discussion, whether verbally offering an opinion or silently giving support through the nod of a head. Involving so many different young adults in such an opinion based class is most definitely an impressive accomplishment, one Regenstreif completes with ease, talent and humor.

Schwartz is a member of the class of 2009.



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