PSCI 3991: “How Washington Works” was first taught in the spring of 2022, requiring students to take a one- to two-hour train ride to Washington every Friday. In the second iteration of the course, scheduled to be taught this fall, students will have more opportunities to hear from public officials and visit government spaces.
The course is open to an equal number of students from Penn and George Mason University. It is part of the SNF Paideia Program and will be held at the Penn Biden Center from 10:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. every Friday. It is co-taught by Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel and George Mason professor Steve Pearlstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post.
Students will be provided Amtrak tickets to attend all class sessions, according to the syllabus. Emanuel told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the intention of the course is to help students better understand Washington and the city’s political influence.
“The closer you are to Washington, the more you understand, [and] the further you get away, the less you understand,” Emanuel said.
Like when it was first taught in the spring of 2022, each class is divided into a lecture, a guest speaker talk, and a class discussion, Emanuel said. However, Emanuel said that he and Pearlstein have made some adjustments to the course. For example, the two professors will now teach a session on bipartisan immigration policy earlier in the semester, rather than at the end, because it helped students to be explicitly taught what motivates politicians and see the “big picture” of legislating.
“This is about politics and how policy gets started,” Emanuel said.
In addition to immigration, sessions will feature topics ranging from the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to big tech antitrust legislation in 2022.
Students will also hear from an array of high-profile speakers and visit well-known Washington locations. During one session, they plan to visit the Supreme Court and hear from former Solicitor General Neal Katyal. The following week, they plan to speak with Senior Advisor to the President Neera Tanden and visit the White House. Other speakers who plan to visit the class include former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman.
Students will be assessed through class participation, reflections on readings, and group presentations. At the end of the semester, they will write a 15-page “policy memo” about the topic of their presentation.
Emanuel added that the course is especially unique in that it brings together students from both Penn and George Mason. To promote interaction between students from each school, Pearlstein will host a barbecue at the beginning of the semester.
Emanuel said he was initially surprised by the diverse pool of students who signed up for the class.
“We thought we’d offer [the class] and get your typical political science students or maybe international relations students,” Emanuel said. “We had computer science students, neuroscience students, we had a lot of your usual suspects interested in Washington. And then the other dimension we had is students from at least four countries in addition to the United States.”
Emanuel praised Penn for taking “the gamble” of joining a class with another college, adding that he thought it made a difference in how students viewed politics.
“I think is pretty courageous to run this kind of class,” Emanuel said. “It’s about civic engagement.”