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Refereeing classroom politics

Bethany Blackstone, Fessor Graham

Near the end of the spring semester, about half of Bethany Blackstone’s political science students walked out during class, and she knew they had learned something.

Blackstone’s students were simulating the U.S. Senate. Democrats held a slight majority, and the Republicans were unhappy with the way the majority party ran the senate. So, in order to stop the Senate from conducting business, they left class, and the Senate no longer had a quorum.

“They had told me their plan beforehand because they wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be in trouble for leaving class,” Blackstone said. “I like the class because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Blackstone, an assistant professor of political science, won the 2015 ‘Fessor Graham Award, which the Student Government Association gives annually for teaching excellence.

Named after late Floyd Graham, a member of the music faculty for more than 40 years, the student body chooses the winner each year for outstanding and selfless service to students. Graham received the first award in 1958, and students have honored a faculty member annually since then.

“It was a huge treat to find out that several students valued my classes,” she said. “Knowing that students care enough to tell the SGA they value what I’m doing is really special.”

In the Senate simulation, students had chosen their political party and the state they represented. The class was smaller than the 100 members in the U.S. Senate, but Blackstone still allowed up to two senators from each state. This required the students to research their state and determine what issues were important to the residents there.

And just like in the U.S. Senate, the political games were intense.

After the Republicans walked out, the Democrats had an answer. The next time, the majority leader called on a little-used Senate rule and asked the sergeant at arms, Blackstone, to forbid the senators from leaving.

In spite of their differences, the student Senators passed bills about oil exports, mining in national parks and employment discrimination. This Senate also passed a bill to address some problems with the Affordable Care Act.

Blackstone said she enjoys teaching lower-level courses and upper-level courses for different reasons.

“The upper level courses are fun because students are more interested in the topic,” she said. “The lower level classes are larger, and many of the students don’t want to be there. But I like to be the one who gets to welcome them to college.”

She is preparing to interact with students in a different venue this fall. Blackstone and her husband Jesse Hammer, the director of research and assessment for UNT Libraries, will move into Rawlins Hall as faculty members–in-residence.

In that role, she will have even more opportunities to engage with UNT’s brightest students since Rawlins Hall will house Honors College students.

She joined the UNT faculty in 2009 after earning her political science doctorate from Emory University. While she completed her doctorate, she worked as a legislative assistant through the American Political Science Association for Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia).

Her six years at UNT have been highly rewarding, she said.

“I really enjoy working with students and helping them succeed,” she said. “I am grateful that my department and the university value quality teaching and research. UNT is a great place to be a teacher-scholar.”

—Matthew Zabel, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

Above, President Neal Smatresk presents the 'Fessor Graham Award to Bethany Blackstone, assistant professor of political science. (Photo by Ahna Hubnik/URCM)

Posted on: Fri 24 July 2015

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