About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Arnold Shober, professor of government, has been a close watcher of and a frequent commentator on the political process in the United States—locally, statewide, and nationally.
He teaches courses in American federalism, elections, media, and public policy, and speaks frequently to media and community groups on political matters. He also oversees independent studies focused on student research and operates a speaker series on civil liberties.
A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2006 and the author of three books on politics and public policy, Shober earned Lawrence’s Excellence in Scholarship award in 2015.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bradley University and master’s and doctorate degrees in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We caught up with him to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
IN THE CLASSROOM
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
My favorite comic strip is the Calvin and Hobbes for April 23, 1995: “Look at all the stars...” You can look it up, but the moral of the story is to embrace humility and perspective. We live in a world of shallow, performative noise — TikTok, anyone? — and one of the most important things I value in my classroom is the ability to listen. That goes for presidential candidates as much as it does for you and me. Can you hear what someone else is saying — someone with the bumper sticker for that guy?
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Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
In class, I am always most excited to hear how students develop their own papers or research projects. I know what I am interested in, but students have different approaches to their own topics. Watching that develop is among the most satisfying parts of my work at Lawrence.
One of my favorite activities outside the classroom is talking with the community about political ideology, development of political parties, and education policy; really, the things I do in class. I’ve been on a local radio station (WHBY) a long time and have done talks for community groups longer. Working at a college, it is easy to forget that our students will be “out there” soon, and I find talking with “out there” keeps my classroom discussions relevant and timely. Not to mention on my toes: Community members ask different questions!
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
I have always appreciated asking people questions, whether for research interviews, class projects, or reviews. There is something very fulfilling in listening to how others think. I’ve often been surprised how people explain their actions or beliefs, if only you give them space to do so. The act of listening builds rapport, trust, and community even when those explanations confirm your expectations.
OUT OF THE CLASSROOM
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
No one is told what would have happened, but my alternate career path was in engineering or maybe a history Ph.D. I still love talking about the contingencies of history, and my students probably get more history in class than they expect. But I’ve always loved being outside, and when I wasn’t teaching politics in graduate school, I was working on the UW research farm. Now we have some cider apple trees, lavender, and honey bees. I suppose I’d be outside with a sun-burnt nose.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
It sounds academic, but I love the library. I can’t quite shake an indelible affinity for mouldering paper. I can’t work there, because I wind up reading a book somewhere in JF or LB or HM about something I knew nothing about. The loss of browsing is one of the great costs of the internet.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
I’ll take liberties with this question and give two books long in print: The Brothers Karamazov (my favorite book, although the New Yorker comic, “Super Karamazov Bros.” kinda sums it up) and Cry, The Beloved Country. Both books speak to the regenerative power of grace and forgiveness, the appearance of which our politics don’t permit much. I do like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, too, which nods toward the crassness of process that accompanies the “firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” as Lincoln put it. Tommy Lee Jones is terrific as Thaddeus Stevens.