Wilmington News Journal, December 5, 2000
University of Delaware "Road to the Presidency"
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Election standoff spices up class

Biggest question unanswered in UD course


By SEAN O'SULLIVAN, Staff reporter

NEWARK - Since 1980, political science Professor Joseph Pika always has ended his fall class on the presidential election with a pair of simplequestions: "Why did [blank] win?" and "Why did [blank] lose?"

This year, he had to come up with a new question for the final.

The final lecture for Pika's class, "The Road to the Presidency," which he taught with former CNN correspondent Ralph Begleiter at the University of Delaware this year, was being given Monday while the results of the 2000 election remained uncertain, mired in legal challenges and political questions.

The situation changed even as the class was being taught Monday afternoon when major court rulings were handed down in both Washington and Florida.

"This election settled nothing," Pika said.

"And if the election settled nothing, you can't ask the class to state conclusions," Begleiter added.

But the uncertainty didn't bother either the instructors or the class of 39.

While there wasn't a sense of closure and the lesson plan for the final weeks had to be thrown out, most agreed that the situation made the class more interesting, memorable and meaningful, if occasionally frustrating.

The fact that problems of historic nature arose in this election has been "the best part of the class," said graduate student Tom Stansell, 36, who has been studying the election with Begleiter and Pika since the spring. "This hasn't happened in 100 years," Stansell said, noting the close vote and the landmark legal questions.

"It has just added to the excitement of the class. They learned it is not just theoretical, it all matters," Begleiter said. "People on and off campus have been saying, "You must be having a blast in class."

During Monday's lecture, one student joked that a special class should be scheduled during the winter session so students at least can have one discussion about who won.

Begleiter responded that at the current rate of progress, it would be safer to schedule the class in the spring.

So without a winner, Pika and Begleiter asked their class as a final assignment to explain three likely implications of the election of 2000 on the future.

From Monday's discussion, it appeared there would be little consensus: The class was as divided as the American electorate.

A few, like Brian Whitman, 21, said the Electoral College should be abolished in favor of using the popular vote to select the U.S. president.

Others, like Craig Beebe, 21, strongly supported the Electoral College, or are formed version of it, to ensure that presidential candidates campaign across the country, not just in a few heavily populated areas.

Opinions also differed on whether the election helped or harmed third-party candidates, voter turnout and female politicians.

Some said Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory for a Senate seat in New York would encourage more women candidates, while at least one student said the controversy surrounding Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris would harm all women seeking elected office.

One area of agreement, however, was the need to reform and standardize the way Americans vote.

Most students said they want and expect to see a national standard, one that would eliminate all the uncertainty and confusion caused by Florida's punch-card system and chads.

However, student Samson Habte said he knew the winner and the result without knowing who won. "The most important consequence will be congressional partisanship - the winner is the status quo."



Copyright 2000, The News Journal Co.

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