Liberal, Conservative Professors Find Common Ground in Shared Course

Jen Lawless Political Class
Mary Kate Cary and Jennifer Lawless taught a class from both sides of the political spectrum with success. Photo Illustration by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications.

As she had done for two decades, Jennifer Lawless, a professor in both the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the Department of Politics, in fall 2020 had plans to teach a presidential election course solo.

But when she became chair of the University of Virginia’s Department of Politics amid a pandemic and her to-do list grew longer, Lawless needed a partner, because, as she put it, “There was no way I could develop an interesting, innovative large lecture class on Zoom by myself."

Lawless, by the way, is a Democrat who once sought her party’s nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives in Rhode Island. Her choice as a co-teacher? Mary Kate Cary, a Republican and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush.

“In one of our first conversations,” Lawless said, “we decided that we should take advantage of our different perspectives and different political connections and use them to deliver to the students a class like they’d never before taken.”

Lawless provided the lectures and slides on Mondays, and on Wednesdays, Lawless and Cary worked together to assemble panels of guest speakers for that week’s subject. On Fridays, the students participated in some election-related activity such as poll-working or volunteering for a campaign.

In a fun twist, the course featured regular Beatles-themed “She Said, She Said” segments any time Cary and Lawless, a couple Miller Center senior fellows, held alternate viewpoints.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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