Amidst constant political change and conflicting viewpoints, Professor Lynn Eckert describes her political science classes as “a place where we are trying to figure out all of this stuff together.” At Marist, she teaches classes on American government and political thought with open discussion and thought-provoking questions. Professor Eckert pursues specific interests in the First Amendment, feminist theory and social movements and, outside of academia, serves as a city Alderman for Ward 1 in Kingston, NY.
Do you remember a specific event or issue that first piqued your interest in political science as a student?
I would always have these raucous family dinners where we would get into political debates, so I grew up being exposed to this stuff. I think I was kind of drawn to it for those reasons. I grew up in the 70s and I think the first political event I remember would be the Iranian Hostage Crisis--I remember seeing footage of it, I remember the reaction of the adults around me. It was also just generally a more frightening time (...) I think that was my first political memory.
How do you feel your political background and experience in local politics has been able to inform your teaching?
I have a lot more real world experience to talk about in politics and in particular political theory. I really believe that philosophy isn’t esoteric. It really does have real world effects (…) so I can say ‘here’s how it played out in an actual real life political situation.’ I think that has been really helpful.
Why do you think it is important for students of all majors to study politics?
I think there is so much ignorance about the way the political system works. I am a real believer that the character of democracy depends on the character of its citizens and part of that character has to be a knowledge about politics (...) Democracy is about self-governance. So you have to know how institutions work and you need to have a cultural literacy about our political system.
How do you manage the challenge of different political views in the classroom, especially during an election season?
I think the most important thing to do is to not abuse your power and to recognize that students are often representing various political viewpoints at play. These are debates that are ongoing and politics are about, in part, a values clash. I think that can go on in the classroom as long as it is done respectfully and that means sometimes you give students who are voicing a minority perspective the final say.
How would you say the environment in your classroom is enhanced in the midst of an election or other major national news?
It certainly brings the real world into the classroom and it is clear to students how some of the stuff we are discussing is pertinent. I think it also demonstrates that political science is not settled as a discipline. New political events challenge consensus and that’s intellectually exciting to see. I think it conveys to students that they have a role to play in assessing the meaning on the political events around them.
If you were to meet a prospective student considering political science, what would be your elevator pitch as to why they should take your class?
What was most important to me in my college career was this idea that I had a role to play in interpreting the events around me. I guess I would say to students: I would want you to have that same sense of empowerment. That there aren’t just simply facts that you have to digest, that these facts have to be woven together into a broader understanding of the world around us and you have to be a part of that. [In college] this sense of becoming a genuine critical and independent thinker was transformative and I think that’s what I’d want students to take away from the class--to see the force of ideas and to see how transformative ideas can be.
If you could have any American president over for dinner--who would it be, why, AND what would you serve them?
It would have to be Lincoln. Lincoln is a fascinating character. He is a mixture of someone who is this pragmatic political street fighter alongside someone who has a real intellectual understanding of the foundations of American National Government. His ability to steer us through the Civil War, invoking pragmatic politics and political strategy at one moment and yet having this long-range understanding of justifying those pragmatic decisions, I think is truly genius (...) I guess I’d attempt to serve a traditional 19th-century meal. I imagine it would be something like ale and meat. I sort of envision something along those lines.
Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18
Profile Tags:Profile Type: Faculty
Academic School: Liberal Arts
Campus: New York