The Other Side of Campus

Episode 13: Global Classrooms, Sacred Spaces, and the Bright Side of COVID with Sean Theriault

January 29th, 2021

Highly-lauded UT professor, author, and political scientist Sean Theriault joins Stephanie and Katie to talk about the lessons of 2020, teaching the politics of Covid in a global classroom setting, and how the pandemic actually made his class BETTER! Thanks for joining us on the Other Side of Campus!


Professor Theriault, who is fascinated by congressional decision-making, is currently researching the effect of interpersonal relationships within the U.S. Congress. He has published five books: Congress: The First Branch (with Mickey Edwards; Oxford University Press, 2020), The Great Broadening (with Bryan Jones and Michelle Whyman; University of Chicago Press, 2019), The Gingrich Senators (Oxford University Press, 2013), Party Polarization in Congress (Cambridge University Press, 2008), and The Power of the People (Ohio State University Press, 2005). He has also published numerous articles in a variety of journals on subjects ranging from presidential rhetoric to congressional careers and the Louisiana Purchase to the Pendleton Act of 1883.

Professor Theriault, whose classes include the U.S. Congress, Congressional Elections, Party Polarization in the United States, and the Politics of the Catholic Church, is passionate about teaching. He has received numerous teaching awards, including the Friar Society Teaching Fellowship (the biggest undergraduate teaching award at UT) in 2009, UT Professor the Year in 2011, and the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award in 2014. In 2012, he was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He has experienced no greater honor than “officiating” at two weddings for former students.

Professor Theriault, who grew up in Michigan, has been to all 50 states (though only 49 state capitols) and six continents. His research and teaching have taken him to among other places Seoul, Rome, and Berlin. He is a competitive tennis player and an avid runner, having competed twice in the Boston Marathon. Before obtaining his Ph.D. from Stanford University (in 2001; M.A. in Political Science in 2000), he attended the University of Richmond (B.A., 1993), and the University of Rochester (M.S. in Public Policy Analysis, 1996).

PRODUCER'S NOTE: This episode was recorded on December 14th, 2020 via Zoom.

Assistant Producers/Hosts: Stephanie Seidel Holmsten, Katie Dawson
(Intro theme features additional PTF fellows Patrick Davis, Keith Brown, David Vanden Bout
Edited by Liberal Arts Development Studio audio crew (special thanks to Jacob Weiss and Morgan Honaker)
Main Theme and original background music by Charlie Harper ( (Some additional background music used on this episode by Revolution Void and Blue Dot Sessions)
Produced by Michelle S Daniel
Creator & Executive Producer: Mary C. Neuburger

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Podcast notes plus timecodes (prepared by Morgan Honaker)
00:00:00:00 - Introductions
00:01:29:29 - What attracted Sean to studying Congress?
00:03:18:14 - Sean as a political optimist.
00:04:09:20 - What are some of Sean’s teaching methods for navigating the current divide in American politics?
00:05:27:13 - How did Sean develop using performative methods of teaching in his class?
00:08:14:04 - Does Sean always present himself as a blank slate for students to address or does he ever let his own political opinions enter the conversation?
00:11:20:17 - Sean discusses how the classroom is a “sacred space” for bipartisan debates because it lets his students hone their critical minds.
00:12:46:07 - Sean talks about his experience teaching online, and how he was able to achieve success in doing so.
00:14:50:26 - Sean discusses his experience partnering with a French university during the Fall 2020 semester.
00:18:49:07 - Sean describes giving students a safe space to learn during the pandemic and how the pandemic touched his classroom.
00:21:33:29 - How did Sean’s class help the students become friends, despite them being in different countries?
00:23:35:12 - Sean discusses how the pandemic helped his students learn about Federalism in the U.S., and how French students were baffled by the independence of U.S. states.
00:25:11:21 - The group discusses how remote learning, due to COVID, has allowed students to compare their cultural and political experiences across different countries.
00:27:16:10 - Sean discusses what he would have done differently in his class with American and French students.
00:28:36:14 - Sean mentions how Covid actually made his class better.
00:29:02:19 - Sean and Stephanie discuss the importance of using class time for collaboration and work so that there isn’t too much of a time burden outside of class, which can alienate those who have family duties, jobs, etc.
00:30:35:25 - How did Sean handle the different university methods and requirements in his class?
00:34:25:21 - What’s a big learning moment or takeaway that Sean had about his class?
00:37:57:00 - Sean and Stephanie discuss how talking to other faculty members helps them with their new teaching methods with online classes.
00:39:53:23 - What is bringing Sean joy right now, in his teaching?
00:42:07:17 - Stephanie’s and Katie’s reflections.