For 35 years, Bruce Buchanan has taught the immensely popular and now iconic Politics of the Presidency class.
Every big, entry-level course is fraught with familiar dangers, but Buchanan’s subject matter makes his particularly tricky.
That so many students representing every political stripe leave it feeling both challenged and informed testifies to Buchanan’s pedagogy.
“I make a point to avoid any political spin or bias,” Buchanan says. “Any time you talk about presidents and how good or bad they were, it can often steer into political ideology. I make a point of not trying to sell anything.”
Media outlets routinely turn to Buchanan when they need context for stories on presidency or presidential history. He’s among the most-quoted faculty members at the University.
Former students praise the comfortable and collegial atmosphere of Buchanan’s class.
“Students are entitled to their opinions, so long as they behave civilly,” he says. “If there’s a disagreement, I’ll let the students go for a few minutes. I don’t let it go too far.”
Comfortable and collegial, yes. Cakewalk? Certainly not.
Joseph Albury, BA ’03, Life Member, remembers taking Buchanan’s class and struggling to get through it.
“It wasn’t an easy course for a first semester student who had yet to develop strong study skills,” Albury writes. “The most enjoyable C grade I ever received. I would pay to take the class again, just to enjoy the lectures.”
Buchanan says he pays close attention to course evaluations and that generally about 55 to 60 percent of students write that the class captured their attention. Not bad, considering that many undergraduates take it just to fulfill a requirement.
“When Abe Lincoln was president anyone could make an appointment, and he used to say, ‘I take a bath in public opinion every day,’” Buchanan says. “What I do is give students a bath in presidential history, and they seem to like it.”
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