Dispatches from Denver, Day 2

A professor whips the delegates, students are securing the premises, and hundreds are studying the Democratic National Convention in seminars and online.
August 27, 2008

When the delegates cast their votes tonight, someone has to keep them in line.

“Whipping is the word. You’re basically making sure that it happens in an orderly fashion,” Alan N. Hoffman, a professor and MBA program director at Bentley College, in Massachusetts, said of his volunteer role as a floor whip this week in Denver, the fifth Democratic National Convention he’s worked.

“With all the balloons and everything out here, there’s no nominee until [Barack Obama] gets enough votes,” Hoffman said Tuesday from the convention floor, where delegates had been batting around a beach ball the previous day. “We’re here to make sure that goes accordingly.”

Hoffman worked his first convention in 1976, then as a staffer for soon-to-be Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. (He is now a business professor at Bentley: “The problem with the political world," he said, "is you end up having to get a new job every two to four years and that’s fun until you’re 35.”) Wearing a green armband denoting his position in Party Secretary Alice Travis Germond’s office, he readied Tuesday to take up his post by his assigned state delegations (Arizona’s and Massachusetts’), just before the first speaker stepped to the podium at Denver’s Pepsi Center (for the start of a six-hour program ending with Sen. Hillary Clinton’s remarks).

“I have people talking into my ear all the time,” Hoffman said, touching his earpiece. Though not right then.

A Nod to Tribal Colleges

A college president was one of the first speakers to the podium on Tuesday -- David Gipp, president of the United Tribes Technical College and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Speaking of the struggles faced by Native American nations in terms of poverty, health care, education and public safety, Gipp told the crowd, “I urge you to look to the nation’s 37 tribal colleges and universities to help lead the way in renewing that promise for American Indians.

"These institutions provide tribal citizens with the skills they need to be vital contributors to society and to our culture. Tribal colleges are a key to the renaissance in American Indian life.”

Career Colleges Reach Out to Democrats

Photo: Elizabeth Redden

Ian Kunter, a culinary arts student, sculpts an eagle at the Career College reception.

The political conventions are known not only for their speeches, but also for all the associated parties and receptions -- and on that note, the Career College Association did not disappoint. At a lunchtime reception held Tuesday at the home of the Art Institute of Colorado and Argosy University, guests ate shrimp and clams from short, skinny glasses as, in the background, art students carved fruit and ice alike. The reception was billed as one to "honor Democrats committed to higher education."

Although Republicans have historically been seen as Congress's strongest advocates for for-profit higher education, the association's relatively new president, Harris N. Miller, was a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Virginia in 2006, and has made outreach to Democrats a priority for the association.

But never fear: The CCA will sponsor a similar event at the Republican convention in St. Paul next week.

The Classroom and the Convention

About 400 students are based at Denver's Regis University for a two-week seminar on the Democratic National Convention offered, since 1984, by the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. (Thirty of those students, plus 100 new ones, will be attending the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul: the attendance for the GOP-oriented seminar was diminished, the program manager said, because of its post-Labor Day start.)

Photo: Elizabeth Redden

Regis University senior Pearl Shields, on access control.

Participating students in the DNC seminar attend an all-star speaker series in addition to completing fieldwork at the convention. They work, for instance, with media organizations, or assist their state delegations -- helping with everything from hosting receptions to stuffing delegates’ bags. Throughout the program, they meet with faculty leaders in small groups to integrate the experience. “Our philosophy is to give them more than they could possibly do and leave it to the discretion of the small-group leader,” said Tony Cerise, senior program manager for academic seminars for the center.

Pearl Shields, a senior politics and English major at Regis, is, as her fieldwork assignment, on security detail at the Pepsi Center this week. In short, she's letting in and keeping out convention-goers based on the color of their credentials. (Red, for instance, is for podium access, which basically gets you anywhere. Green gets you onto the floor, and purple, into the hall where you can look at the floor from on high. Inside Higher Ed's reporter wears purple.)

Guarding a door to the hall on the Pepsi Center’s top floor, Shields can see the podium from her post.

“I basically get a free pass into the convention. Yesterday, I got to see the whole thing from start to finish,” Shields said.


Modeled after a similar class he offered when the G8 Summit came to town in 1997, Robert Hazan, the political science chair at Metropolitan State College of Denver, has opened his course on the convention, DNCeduOnline, to the public, at no charge.

The course platform hosts audio and video interviews, links to readings, and discussion threads in areas such as education, energy, health care, immigration and the war in Iraq. Among the discussion prompts: "Off-Shore Drilling: To Drill or Not to Drill?" and "What's Wrong with Health Care?" On economic issues, Letters from Vermont and America, a collection of tales of economic struggles gathered by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, is the starting point for one discussion thread.

Despite the original intent of the public online platform -- “That’s the spirit of it, to bring politics to the public, to the learners, in a way where there can be some constructive projects that can be organized” -- Hazan said that his own paying Metro State students, enrolled online through a one-credit DNC Presidential Politics class, are doing most of the posting.

But he’s not disappointed, pointing out that the higher levels of public participation in the G-8 course 11 years ago likely reflected the then-novelty of this idea of an open-access, online course. That's in contrast to television, he said Tuesday. “Let us assume if DNC was Pay-Per-View, probably less people would have watched it." Online, he continued, "if people don't pay, they're less likely to participate."

"It's a fascinating thing."

Inside Higher Ed's coverage of the Democratic National Convention continues tomorrow.


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