Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Unique course puts students in a legislative quandary
By Eric Reikowski, media relations assistant
Amid a deluge of media headlines, terms like “fiscal cliff,” “debt ceiling” and “sequestration” have become the latest buzzwords in American political discourse. As leaders at all levels of government grapple with these issues, a special course in Oakland University’s Department of Political Science this semester is helping students gain insight into the nation’s looming financial crisis.
Taught by former state lawmakers Michael “Mickey” Switalski and Chuck Moss, the course examines the inner workings of government finance and budgeting. Students are presented with an in-depth look at how governments raise revenue, set spending priorities and manage debt.
The course, titled “The Fiscal Cliff: Taxing, Spending, Debt and Deficits,” has mirrored the current scene in Washington as students have engaged in simulation exercises that address actual controversies being dealt with by Congress.
“The federal government seems to follow our syllabus,” said Moss, who served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. “The same night Congress was debating the budget, Oakland students were doing the same thing and hashing out a budget.”
“Unlike Congress,” Moss quipped, “Oakland students got the job done and avoided a shutdown; ditto for the debt ceiling.”
Moss said the class started as an overview of “the way things work” and a general study of the financial crisis of 2008. But as current events unfolded, class simulations have paralleled Washington debates in “real time,” lending the course added relevance and urgency.
Moss and Switalski both have relished the chance to bring their political experiences to Oakland’s campus. This past February, the Department of Political Science sponsored a public forum, during which the pair offered their take on the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff crisis
Dr. David Dulio, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, sees this collaboration as a tremendous benefit to students.
“I’m a big believer in students getting access to these types of individuals,” he said. “There’s really no better way for students to learn than to have two experienced former legislators come in and have a dialogue that is civil and respectful on both sides, full of analysis and that gets to the heart of the issues facing leaders in Washington and Lansing.”
Moss, a Republican, represented the 40th district in the State House, which covers a large swathe of Oakland County. Switalski is a Democrat who represented the 10th district of the Michigan Senate, located in central Macomb County. Despite their political differences, the two are great friends and are enjoying the constructive, good-natured exchange of ideas.
“Chuck and I are very pleased with the course, and we are having almost as much fun as the students,” said Switalski, who teaches a number of other courses at OU.
“We think the students are doing great fixing Social Security, Michigan's gas tax, the California state budget, and resolving the shutdown, debt ceiling and fiscal cliff in class even before Congress has. We live in a cynical age, but I believe our students are coming away with a deeper appreciation of how hard it is to resolve these issues, and are developing the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to solutions.”
To learn more about programs in OU’s Department of Political Science, view the website at oakland.edu/polisci.
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