I have designed and taught courses in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Course descriptions and linked syllabi are below.
American Constitutional Principles: Core Texts. Spring 2018. University of Texas at Austin. [Syllabus]
The United States, perhaps uniquely among nations, is premised upon ideas rather than soil and blood. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence opened with the proposition that “all men are created equal,” and much of American history, as we will see, has been an attempt to fully realize and extend this promise — albeit imperfectly, and, at times, only through great struggle. The purpose of this course is to understand the foundational commitments of the American constitutional order, focusing particularly on four interrelated themes: Constitutionalism, Democracy, Liberty, and Equality. This examination will be conducted through a close-reading of primary texts.
We will begin our course with a unit on constitutionalism. The ratification debates between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists will serve as the focal point of this exploration because their debate about the merits of the proposed Constitution displays the fundamental logic of our constitutional enterprise. In our study of the ratification debates we will examine the type of society envisioned by the Constitution, the extent of national power and federalism, and the nature of our political institutions in a separation of powers system.
In our second unit, we will probe more deeply into the nature of American democracy by reading passages from the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Tocqueville’s insights about the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy have proved particularly prescient and enduring.
In our third unit we will consider liberty, especially as it relates to religious liberty and freedom of speech. We will read writers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and James Madison to give us a theoretical framework for considering these issues before examining how these questions have been settled and unsettled over time, especially by the Supreme Court.
Finally, we will conclude our course with a unit on equality, paying particular attention to the perspectives of those — such as Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others — who struggled to see the promise of the Declaration fulfilled.
A fundamental premise of this course is that thought constitutes politics. Most Americans are no doubt familiar with many of the ideas we will encounter in these texts, even if they have never actually read them. Our goal, therefore, is to understand these ideas as originally theorized, to see how American politics has been structured and shaped by them, and to consider how Americans have struggled, and at times failed, to put these ideas into practice. Such a task will help us better appreciate and enter into our role as citizens in a nation committed to certain ideals.
American Government. Fall 2017. University of Texas at Austin. [Syllabus]
This course is an introduction to American government and politics. The primary focus will be an examination of the foundational principles undergirding American institutions and processes. To do this, we must first attain a firm grasp of the Constitution, as decisions made at the founding shape and constrain politics throughout history, even today. The goal of this course isn’t to be overly beholden to the rules of the Constitution or the views of the framers in a blind or legalistic sense. Rather, we want to think like the framers, to take on a constitutional “frame of mind.” This requires understanding the reasons for the institutional design choices made by the framers and the kind of politics our institutions are meant to foster and sustain. Understanding these reasons means we can better evaluate whether our government works as intended. Moreover, this approach to thinking about American government helps us evaluate modern innovations to our politics, such as political parties, the modern primary system, and the rise of mass media. Finally, analyzing the theoretical foundations and normative commitments of the American constitutional order provides strong tools for constitutional critique, as good critique requires dealing with the best arguments in favor of the government we’ve inherited. Consequently, this is not a course on current policy debates, current events, or even the difference between “liberals” and “conservatives.” Rather, we will probe deeper into questions about the nature of American politics, the responsibility of governing institutions to citizens, and the responsibilities of citizens to each other in a republic. Pursuant to legislative requirements, this course will also include a focus on Texas government institutions.