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Teaching Experience
Lawrence C. Dodd

I began my teaching career at the tender age of twenty five at the University of Texas. Walking into a class of 200 students in American Government in early September of 1972, just having arrived in Austin a few days earlier and reeling from the summer heat, I sat down in the first row of seats to wait for time to begin lecturing. The students almost fainted when I walked to the podium, introduced myself, and began class. I was a very young 25. One student commented after class that, with a name like ‘Professor Dodd,’ he expected me to be a dottering gray-haired old man. I’m working on it.

     I

What I knew then about American Politics, Congress, and Political Parties – my assignments at UT my first two years – I had learned from books, articles and course-work. I had never been to Washington or observed politics up close and personal, except by working in local elections. Those early lectures were very dry. But I did love the study of politics, and worked hard at conveying my passion to the students. I was a Texas native, and had a feel for the culture, so I could relate to the kids (my fellow kids) in the class. And that year I also began a tradition of inviting most classes to my house for barbeque and class discussion, so that almost thirty years later thousands of students have streamed through my homes in Austin, Bloomington, Boulder and Gainesville.

The nature of my teaching changed after I spent my third year as a UT faculty member serving as a Congressional Fellow in Washington. A major impact of that year was to induce a kind of ‘deep assimilation’ of my understanding of the Congress, so that I started to see the connections between facts and arguments and to look for theories by which to best convey those connections to my students. And of course I have garnered a myriad of stories to share with the students, illustrating theories and arguments.

Perhaps most momentously, on returning to Austin I began teaching graduate seminars on a regular basis, more secure in my knowledge of my subject matter, and found that graduate teaching gave full play to my love of ideas, politics and learning. The seminars became ‘incubators’ for theories and research for both me and the students, so that much of the foundation for the arguments about Congress that I discuss in the research portion of this website came forth originally in these classes. Even today I remember with excitement when the thesis to “Congress and the Quest for Power” hit me literally in the midst of class discussion one day in the fall of 1975, while teaching the grad seminar on Congress just months after returning from Capitol Hill. Over and over through the years, an ‘a ha’ experience would occur serendipitously in grad seminar or a few days later, resculpting my perspectives. Most recently this occurred in the Congress seminar at Florida in the spring of 2000 when my graduate students shared with me their sense – something no one else was telling me – that my initial formulation of “Re-Envisioning Congress” didn’t really work, leading to an agonizing summer and fall of rewriting before I made progress in addressing their concerns.

Often I have found that it is the undergraduate students who, almost innocently, pose the probing question that can force me to see the self-delusions in my work and that of others. But invariably it is the graduate students whose intellectual rigor holds my feet to the fire as I seek to solve my puzzles and craft viable answers, giving me no quarter until I have convinced them (or at least caused them pause).

     II

The love of graduate teaching, and my close engagement with the students, has led naturally to a deep involvement in the direction of masters theses and doctoral dissertations. The opportunity to concentrate my energy on graduate training led me to leave Colorado in 1995, despite my love of the American West, and accept the Dauer Chair at Florida. The payoff has been the opportunity to be on the ‘ground floor’ as the Florida department was ‘taking off’ in the 1990s, and particularly to have an opportunity to work closely with a gifted and committed group of doctoral students.

Over almost thirty years I have thus far directed almost two dozen dissertations, counting those in the pipeline today at Florida, and countless masters theses. Occasionally the topics have come from the seminars in Congress, American Politics, Comparative Legislatures, or Empirical Theories that I teach. Often they emerge from the students’ varied interests, with none of my fingerprints anywhere to be found. The topics have ranged from public opinion and voting behavior to women and politics to committee oversight in Congress to motor voter legislation to Texas and/or Indiana politics to the evolution of the congressional budget process to leadership politics and PAC contributions in Congress to morality politics on Capitol Hill to legislative-executive relations in congressional policy-making to Appropriations Committee politics, and the list goes on.

My concerns in working with the masters and dissertation students have been to support their efforts to find questions that intrigue them, to help them determine the methods and data appropriate to their topics and their talents, and to encourage them to craft theoretical approaches that truly address the puzzle at hand, irrespective of momentary fads. I have also sought to support students in their discovery of life paths most suited to them – whether that be in the academic world or ‘real-world’ engagement. Today former advisees, masters students or dissertation students,  are scattered far and wide – from academic jobs at schools such as North Carolina, Chapman College, Marquette, Penn State, Connecticut, Niagara University, Georgia, Bridgewater State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Charleston, to success as political consultants, state legislators, legislative/congressional staffers and executive administrators from Austin to Indianapolis to Denver to Washington. Three have served as Brookings Fellows and five as Congressional Fellows.

     III

Perhaps the most central concern I face today in graduate teaching is how best to prepare advanced students to engage in systematic political inquiry so as to make a satisfying contribution to our understanding of politics. The methods and data available to political scientists have surged ahead remarkably over the past several decades, so that most graduate programs offer cutting edge statistical and analytical training, with Florida, fortunately, being increasingly at the forefront. But the discipline of political science struggles still with how best to use the available methods and data to understand politics and explain political phenomena. Often students applying these tools in cookie-cutter fashion are left alienated by the experience, wondering if ‘this’ is all the understanding that is truly possible.

As I have grappled with these issues myself, I have come to believe that scholars and students must confront such concerns ‘head on.’ Not only do we need training in methods and data gathering, though such concerns are essential. We also need guidance in comprehending the broad range of useful theories, becoming open to multiple theories just as we have become aware over the past several decades of ‘multiple methods.’ Similarly, we must confront authentically the multiple ways of knowing, including ways that may require empathy and critical discernment, as well as those requiring statistical rigor and mathematical logic.

To this end, I have constructed courses here at Florida devoted both to Empirical Theories of Politics and to The Scope and Epistemologies of Political Science. These courses are designed to introduce students in as authentic and accessible a manner as I can to the relevant literature on these topics, alerting them to multiple ways of seeing the political world and multiple ways of knowing it. In doing so, I am naturally led well beyond the literature on Congress and American politics, looking wherever my search may lead for the most useful exemplars of contrasting empirical theories of politics and of varying epistemological perspectives on political inquiry. I have truly become a teacher of ‘political science,’ broadly and rightly understood.

     IV

I have sojourned far and wide over the years, and not just in my geographical wandering but in my teaching roles and philosophy. If by any chance you were a student of mine at some point in this sojourn, surfing the internet and discovering my website, do contact me and let me know what has happened to you. Just for the record, to jog your memory, during the Texas years (1972-80) I taught not only “Congress,” “Parties,” and “American Government” but also “Congressional-Executive Relations,” “Democracy in Texas,” “The Dance of Legislation,” and “The Legislative Presidency.” At Indiana (1980-86), while teaching “American Government” (in the 500 seat auditorium in Woodburn Hall), as well as “Congress,” “Congressional-Executive Relations,” and “Comparative Legislatures,” I also taught a course on “Elections” during the fall of every congressional election year, and an Honors Course on “State Legislative Politics.” At Colorado (1986-95) I created the “Scope and Epistemologies” course and a graduate-level “American Politics” course, and at Florida (1995 to the present) I added “Empirical Theories.”

Finally, if you are a prospective student, considering graduate work at Florida, feel free to email me or call with questions or comments. I also encourage you to go to the graduate program website at: http://www.polisci.ufl.edu/grad.html

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