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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 14, 2007

Iowa Caucuses become part of University of Iowa curriculum

Recognizing that the Iowa Caucuses place the state at the epicenter of political activity every four years, several University of Iowa professors have developed courses that tie into the caucuses.

Two courses focus directly on the caucuses, educating students on the history and impact of the caucuses and encouraging them to study the candidates and campaigns. Two others connect to the caucuses by exploring foreign policy issues important in the upcoming election and discussing how Hollywood versions of presidents influence voters' expectations of real presidents.

"Courses like these make learning real. Students are immersed in the nominating process theoretically, but also practically, as it happens," said UI Associate Professor of Political Science David Redlawsk, who is teaching a first-year seminar called "The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nomination Process." "The 'book work' and the real-world experience they gain from monitoring campaigns and candidates complement each other, reinforcing what students learn both in and out of the classroom."

Redlawsk's course looks closely at the campaigns and how the Iowa Caucuses came to play a key role in "weeding out" presidential candidates. Students study arguments for and against Iowa as a kickoff point and the effect the caucuses have on the state's non-presidential politics. Assignments include following campaigns in the media, attending campaign events, reading academic studies of the caucuses and preparing a multimedia portfolio on a candidate.

Cary Covington, associate professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is teaching an honors seminar called "Engaging the Candidates: Perspectives of the Presidential Nominating Process." Students study how candidates structure their public images and their approaches to issues like foreign policy. They examine how the media portrays candidates and how Iowans view them. Assignments include attending candidate presentations, meeting with party and media representatives and analyzing media reports and poll results. Students investigate how candidates portray themselves in public, in debates, in advertising and online, as well as the effects of those strategies on the outcome of the race. They will present their findings to the university community at the end of the semester at a time and place to be determined.

"The up-close and personal attention that the students can give to the candidates and the media is not available at any other time or any other place," Covington said. "This is an opportunity that presents itself only once every four years."

Students enrolled in "U.S. and the World" are getting a 12-week overview of U.S. foreign policy. The course, which is open to the public, is designed to expose students and other voters to issues important in the caucuses. Guest speakers include veterans of Republican and Democratic administrations, a former assistant secretary of defense, several former ambassadors, congressmen and a foreign correspondent from Newsweek. A full schedule of speakers is available at

"I still remember 2000, when a whole presidential campaign came and went with practically no mention of foreign policy," said the instructor, David Schoenbaum, professor of history in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This time, I want to make sure that the subject comes up, that we in Iowa get a chance to talk seriously about it and that the candidates know we're watching."

Another course connects with the caucuses from an entertainment perspective. Bruce Gronbeck, professor of communication studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is teaching "Entertainment and American Political Culture," a month-long freshmen seminar. The course includes discussions on how "romantic visions" of presidency in popular films and TV shows can influence the public's expectations of an actual president.

"We look at how shows like "West Wing" and films like "The American President" focus on a president's personality and loyalty to the American people, rather than his policies," Gronbeck said. "The message driven home in these types of programs is that a commitment to moral character is essential to leadership in a Democracy. The theme is that an ideal president should be basing his or her views on the wants and needs of the common American -- not on pressure from corporations, institutions or political groups."

The caucuses are neighborhood meetings at which participants voice their preferences among the candidates for president. There are some slight operational differences between Republican and Democratic caucuses, but in both cases, participants elect delegates to county conventions who, in turn, elect delegates to district and state conventions, where national convention delegates are selected. Those delegates are sent to nominate the candidate preferred by the caucus participants.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,