Teaching Assistant

Max Kramer

Course Syllabus

Updated 9/7/2011

This syllabus will change during the semester. It’s your responsibility to stay abreast of changes announced in class and on the course web site. Information in this syllabus is also on the course web site. Please use the course web site as your continuing course information resource.


This course is an overview political communication speaker series that focuses on understanding national issues and unfolding political campaigns and debates. Topics will include following the start of the 2012 presidential election campaign, some national issues at stake in the election season, and the tactics used by political communication professionals.  Students meet and attend talks and small group dinners with national affairs speakers/practitioners on these topics.

The course will include a number of speaker events on campus, including some which may not yet be announced. All students are required to attend these events and may be asked to assist in their preparation.

The logistics of this course are highly unusual (see below). Please check the course calendar at the end of this syllabus and online, and mark your own calendars appropriately. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions early in the course to clarify anything that’s unclear.

This class meets just once a week, but in many weeks, guest speakers, practitioners in the politics and media community, visit the UD campus to explore with students their experiences in political communication. All students in this course are required to attend these events, and will attend exclusive small-group talks and private dinners with visiting speakers, and will be joined by members of the university and public community who are invited to the series of Wednesday evening events.

On non-speaker weeks, the class will explore topics upcoming and just passed in the speaker series. This course is appropriate for juniors and seniors interested in politics, political communication and journalism who are eager for lively interaction with our visiting speakers. The key to this class is the speakers.

Unusual Mechanics of this course

This class meets just once a week, on Wednesdays in Kirkbride Hall 204.

In weeks when there is a guest speaker, students are required to attend all of the following events with the speaker:

  1. class session, exclusive to students in this class, to allow lots of interaction with the guest (begins at 3:35pm) - 204 Kirkbride Hall

  2. informal reception, to allow off-topic discussions (5:00-5:45pm) - Caffé Gelato, 91 East Main Street, Newark

  3. dinner with guest speakers, exclusive to students in this class, to allow informal continuing discussion (begins at 6:00pm) - Caffé Gelato (There is no cost to students for the receptions & dinners.)

  4. formal evening talk, open to students outside the class and to the general public (begins at 7:30pm) - Mitchell Hall. You are enthusiastically encouraged to introduce a friend to these important campus opportunities.

In weeks when there is no guest speaker, the class will meet in Kirkbride 204 on Wednesday at 3:35pm for discussion of the upcoming guest’s topic and review of the previous week’s speaker. This will be a standard-length class. (3:35-4:50pm) Note: There may be some sessions of our “regular” class which may also feature a guest speaker. On these occasions, there are no evening obligations, but you’ll want to be prepared for topical discussion in class with our speakers. Stay abreast of our schedule to determine these special events.

There is one special event in the semester which will occur on a day other than Wednesday: An appearance on the UD campus by Vice President Joe Biden takes place on Friday, September 16 at 4:00pm. Please mark your calendars; you are required to attend. Students in this class will receive a free ticket to this event and may be involved in its preparation. Please be sure to pick up your ticket, or it will be given to someone else. (Instructions will come in email.)

As you can see, the schedule of this course is unusual (some might say crazy), so you'll have to stay on your toes, watch the web site and listen for changes announced in class and watch your email.


The primary focus of this course is the experiences students have with our guest speakers. The speakers have been chosen for the diversity of their political communication expertise - in government and political campaigns. Classes with the guest speakers, and their public lectures, form the backbone of this course. Attendance at these events is mandatory. You should take these as opportunities to ask questions and engage in lively dialog. Please do not take a seat in this course if this requirement is a problem for you. The course calendar is also available on the course web site.

Your interaction with guest speakers in this course should be smart, professional and enthusiastic. Putting it bluntly: guests such as the ones we will meet have many opportunities to visit many other universities. To encourage them to offer their expertise to students like you here at UD, they should have a lively, intelligent and - yes - fun experience at Delaware. That is largely up to you. Don’t “hang back.” Be prepared with questions that interest you and your peers. It’s perfectly OK to ask “elementary” questions or to challenge a speaker’s views; it’s not OK to ask no questions or engage in no discussion. Take advantage of these opportunities. Think of things to talk about. Milk our guest speakers for all they’re worth.

Politics is complicated and detailed; some things might not seem to “make sense.” Nobody understands everything about it. You should not feel intimidated by this; the whole point of this class is to help you emerge much more knowledgeable than you already are. Take advantage of this opportunity.

In weeks when there is no guest speaker, classes will consist primarily of lectures, discussion and video and multimedia presentations. At these classes, as well as at the guest speaker classes and lectures, questions and discussion from students are very much encouraged. Discussions will draw from class presentations, reading assignments, videos, and class assignments.

There will be several writing assignments in this class. (More on this in a moment.)

Just as in the political science and communication fields, independent, analytical and critical thinking is highly valued. So your contribution to class discussion will be reflected in your final grade.

You’ll be expected to attend class; it’s hard to imagine how learning can take place without your attendance and active participation. If this prospect does not appeal to you, please free your seat for another student. Unexcused absences will result in the automatic lowering of your grade.


To make the class dinners with guest speakers more interesting, informal and to encourage maximum student-speaker conversation, we limit the number of people at each dinner. A rotation system will be established early in the semester to assure all students have ample opportunity to converse with our guests. Regrettably, not every student will be able to attend every dinner.

Regardless of whether you participate in any given dinner, all students are required to participate in the reception following the class meeting, and all students are required to participate in the evening speaker events. These receptions and dinners take place at Caffé Gelato on Main Street. There is no cost to students in this class.

Dinner assignments will be posted on the course web site once they are made.

Spread the word - share the wealth

Only students enrolled in the class may join the class, reception and dinner opportunities. But you are encouraged to bring a friend to the evening speaker events. The evening events are designed to share your experience with other students. Introduce a friend to this complex topic they see in the news all the time. I will ask each of you to use your “F” power (that’s “Facebook”) to reach out to your friends about National Agenda.


How much you gain from this class will depend in large measure on how well you prime yourself for the topics we will discuss with our speakers. Specific readings may not be discussed explicitly in class, but to participate effectively in class, with our speakers, and to write the best essays, you will find it critical to complete the readings. You will be pleasantly surprised at the end of the semester at how fluent you become in these topics. Your final exam in this class will call for specific references to your readings (as well as to our speakers).

Required readings include all or parts of papers and articles which will be available electronically from the “Readings” page of the Sakai web site.

There is no required text for this class.

Current Events

This course draws heavily on current issues in the news media. You are required to keep up with contemporary political news by reading The New York Times, or other reputable current affairs publications, and by watching television/web news broadcasts. Students may subscribe to the Times at discount rates, and, of course, you may read it on the Internet. Students will also want to remain familiar with national news coverage on National Public Radio, PBS (WHYY-TV-12) or one of the domestic networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC). Don’t rely on essentially local news media such as the News Journal or local TV newscasts for national political news. You will find links to a wide variety of national affairs publications and resources, including many published abroad, on the course web site.


You will have a variety of assignments in this class, including two exams (see next section). Details of these assignments will be explained in class and in writing. Honors students, as a group, will conduct a major project in the first half of the semester. Non-Honors students will work in “Campaign Watch” groups and present their findings at the end of the semester.

Perhaps the single most important skill in politics is thoughtful, insightful, analytical, concise, quality writing. Such writing is highly valued in this course.

Due dates will be announced in class and are included in the syllabus, which may be periodically updated on the class web site. The schedule of events and assignments in this class is highly likely to change during the semester. It is your responsibility to remain up to date with the syllabus on the web. Use the web-based syllabus as your primary course information resource.

All writing assignments in this class will be submitted, graded and returned electronically. No paper, no printing.

What’s valued in your papers is your ability to synthesize what you’re reading and hearing from our speakers into thoughtful analysis.

Quizzes and Exams

There will be several short online quizzes during the semester, focusing on news of the national political campaign. These will be announced by email and on the course website (Sakai). There will be a mid-term exam, in-class on Wednesday, October 26, and a take-home final exam. Each exam will consist of a mixture of multiple choice and short essay questions. The Final Exam will be due on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 5:00pm.


Students in this course will be evaluated on multiple assignments reflecting different learning styles and different skills. Writing, thinking and active class participation are critical elements of this class. That means you need to do more for class meetings than just show up. Each of the following elements will be weighed in calculating the final course grade:

15% - campaign quizzes

10% - class attendance and participation in discussions

25% - mid-term exam (in-class)

25% - Writing assignments

25% - Final exam due December 12

Note: Students missing more than two classes or more than one guest speaker event will automatically experience a grade reduction.

Grades will be posted periodically on the “Grading” page of the course Sakai web site. Papers submitted electronically will be returned electronically, with grades and professor comments embedded in returned documents.

Assignments submitted after their due date will receive automatically-reduced grades.

Professionalism and Integrity

You should be smart, professional and enthusiastic in your interaction with guest speakers in this course. I get questions every year from students about appropriate dress, so here’s some guidance: At guest speaker classes, receptions, dinners and public talks, please dress appropriately (no need to overdo it, but please don’t come looking like you just rolled out of bed). Guideline for men: neckties are OK but not required. Collared shirts are good; T-shirts and pajamas are inappropriate. Guideline for women: T-shirts, pajamas and flip-flops are inappropriate.

The key word is “professional.” Your written work should have a professional appearance. Even your most creative work will suffer from poor writing, spelling and formatting.

You are expected to observe and uphold the University’s code of academic integrity and the rules against plagiarism. Plagiarism is a major, career-killing offense in the communication industry. Violations in this course will not be treated lightly and will be referred to University authorities in accordance with established university regulations. Warning: I have a reputation for prosecuting plagiarism cases.

Honors students

You will have some assignments different from others in the class, including preparing important details of several of our speaker events. You’ll get separate instructions, and there may be separate meetings of the Honors section at times to be determined by mutual convenience.

Guidelines for your papers:

  1. Handwritten documents will not be accepted in this class. All assignments will be submitted electronically, on the course Sakai web site.

  2. On the first page, include your name, the course name and number, the date, the assignment title and any title you choose for your work.

  3. On all subsequent pages, include your name and page number.

  4. Electronic submission of assignments is required, subject to the deadlines noted on the syllabus. Please submit your assignments on the Sakai site under the “Assignments” tab. If there are problems with Sakai, email attachments are OK.

  5. Use your spell-checker, but don’t expect it to flag correctly-spelled words which are used incorrectly. For that, you must... Proofread your own work! Don’t skip this step; proofread your work!