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The Carletonian

After 35 years, Schier says goodbye

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After 35 years at Carleton, Professor Steven Schier will retire at the end of this academic year. Schier came to Carleton in 1981 after three years of teaching at Wittenberg University. His interest in politics, he said, comes from growing up in the 1960s, a time of political turmoil and complexity. He has researched a wide range of topics, including political parties, interest groups, elections, Congress, voting behavior, public policy and the presidency.

For Schier, principle among these topics is the presidency. He has researched and written about it frequently, and says that it’s a subject that students are usually very interested in. According to Schier, teaching political science in election years makes his classes more “news-centric … Students are more interested in current events.”

When asked for his prediction on the outcome of the upcoming 2016 election, Schier opted for “unpredictable.” The unique characteristics of this election season, Schier explained, make accurate predictions impossible.

According to Schier, teaching political science in Minnesota has unique implications. “Minnesota is distinctive politically,” Schier said, comparing its political environment to that of the Scandinavian countries. “Politics are moralistic here,” he explained, and deal with “big, abstract questions of good and evil.”

Both liberals and conservatives in Minnesota are idealistic, preferring moralistic candidates like Bernie Sanders on the left or Ted Cruz on the right, rather than politicians who focus mainly on pragmatism. Sanders’s recent rally in St. Paul is a good example: it attracted thousands of people, including Carleton students.

According to Schier, the political environment at Carleton is a good one. “It’s definitely not in-your-face,” he said. Though Carleton possesses the liberal tendencies present at most liberal arts colleges, discourse is respectful. One thing he’d change about Carleton? “The climate,” he laughs, and specifies, “meteorologically,” not politically.

The political science department at Carleton, however, as well as Carleton’s general environment, has changed over the years.

“In 1981, everyone wore blue jeans,” Schier said. The student body was mostly middle class and Midwestern. Now, he said, students from middle class families make up a much smaller portion of the college than they used to, and the student body is much more culturally and internationally diverse than it used to be.

The growth in student diversity, in particular, has changed the dynamic in Schier’s political science courses. “International students bring a fresh perspective on American politics,” he said. “The more the merrier.”

In addition to teaching classes on campus, Schier has led the Political Science Department’s off-campus studies program in Washington, D.C. twelve times. The first trip was in 1983, during Reagan’s presidency, and the most recent in 2010, during Obama’s.

The changes in the country’s political atmosphere have been thrown into stark relief by the evolution of the program over the years, he said. The 1991 trip was heavily influenced by the Gulf War, just as the 2001 trip was by the controversial presidential election of 2000, and after 9/11 the program was affected by the dramatically altered environment in Washington.

Technology has also changed the way that political science is taught at Carleton. Before the internet, Schier said, Carleton was a much more self-contained community. Now, technology has made national and international interaction much easier, but local interactions are less central.

This change gives both students and professors good opportunities, Schier said. “It’s a big world, and I like to be part of it.”

After retiring, Schier still plans to stay active in political science. “I’ll keep my hand in political analysis,” Schier said. He plans to move to the Twin Cities and continue writing columns, doing other media work, and working with various organizations.

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