Engaging Democracy

Instructor Name: 
Richard Clucas
Course Description: 

Students who are interested in taking the course, or simply want to know more about it, are encouraged to email the instructor as early as possible to be added to an email list that provides more information.

This Capstone takes place over the winter and spring term, and is only offered every other year, when the Oregon Legislature has a full session.  One of the most pressing problems in American politics today is that the public feels increasingly distant from elected leaders. To many reformers, the health of the nation’s democracy can only improve by getting more young people involved in politics. The Engaging Democracy capstone addresses this problem by having students assist Oregon legislators during the long legislative session in odd calendar years in Salem, where they will help handle the broad range of responsibilities placed on legislative staff. During classroom times, students will learn about the position of legislatures in American politics and the character of Oregon politics. As a final project, the students will work together on a web-based guide to the Legislative Assembly. The work in the capitol will be arranged around each individual student’s schedule. Carpooling should be available. It is likely we will have some funds to offset travel costs.

Learning Objectives:

More than anything else, the primary learning objectives are to make students more understanding of the nature of representative democracy and more engaged in our political system. As far as cognitive learning, the objectives of this class are to make students familiar with:

  • The structure, procedures, and functions of state legislatures, especially the Oregon Legislative Assembly;
  • The importance of particular actors in the legislative process, including individual citizens, legislative leaders, the governor, political parties, and interest groups;
  • The demands and pressures put on elected officials;
  • The role of staff in the legislature;
  • The environment in legislative offices;
  • Key forces that shape Oregon politics today.

The Capstone is also meant to give students hands-on experience working for an elected official and their diverse constituencies, to enable students to think more critically about politics, and to get students to work together on a joint project that is meant to improve public understanding of the Legislative Assembly.

Project Description: 

The community project for this capstone course is the development of a guide to the Oregon legislature. The guide is meant to provide Oregon citizens with information on the structure, procedures, and other characteristics of the Legislative Assembly. Each student in the capstone is asked to research some aspect of how the legislature functions or is structured, and then write a paper on what they learn. The students are required to interview a minimum number of people involved in the legislature as they research their topic. Once the paper is written, the students share their work with others in the class so they get experience editing others’ work. The students are also asked to share their papers with an outside expert to make sure the information is accurate. The final product is posted on the capstone’s website: https://oregonlegislativeguide.net/.