The Capitol is our Campus
The Williamsburg Model: Incubator of Influence
Since the Golden Age of Athens, a student’s proximity to his learning opportunities has been vital to the richness of his preparation. In Colonial America, the ideal environment for students of philosophy, law and government was arguably Williamsburg, Virginia. With the College of William and Mary at one end of town, the House of Burgesses is situated only a few blocks away at the other. Consequently, a favorite pastime of students was to gather to hear the legislative debates.
In 1765, the inquisitive 22-year old Thomas Jefferson was in many ways still a regular college student. Although studying the law under George Wythe at the time, he had not yet “caught fire” to set on the great trajectory of his future.
On May 30th he was watching the legislative debates with his fellow classmates. On that day, however, he was fortunate enough to see the newly elected Patrick Henry deliver his Caesar-Brutus speech as he presented his resolutions against the Stamp Act. By Jefferson’s own account, he was standing in the doorway, riveted to every word as a spark ignited within him. For the rest of his life he would refer to that moment as the catalyst for his commitment to the cause of liberty and good government. From that time forward, evidence of his growing passion increased in his journals, studies and activities—as manifest in his deeper exploration of the natural “inalienable” rights of man, and the philosophies supporting this central tenet.
His ensuing friendships with Patrick Henry and many others intersecting through the hub of Williamsburg set the stage for much of the history we all know. But the serendipity that led to these opportunities was magnified first by proximity. It should also come as no surprise that so many statesmen emerged from that same college, just minutes from the halls of Virginia's government. Combined with good mentoring, state legislatures are the seedbeds, laboratories and incubators of statesmanship.
Such locations provide the richest opportunities for modern students as well—to intern with legislators, governors, judges, law offices, think tanks, public affairs consultants, media and other supporting organizations that shape governments and society. It is also where key networking relationships are initially forged in one's youth, just as benefited the young Jefferson.
During the Utah legislative session each year, classes are also held in rooms at the Capitol itself. Engaging one's peers in this inspiring atmosphere adds sobriety to the subject matter, and the frequent visits by legislators, think tank representatives and political operatives clarify and make concrete those abstract discussions that involve the political process and law. Tracking bills and attending committee hearings and floor time before and after class with frequent behind the scenes briefings are a key enrichment to classroom discussion.
Full Immersion Simulations
Three weeks after the end of the legislative session the students participate in the Statesmanship Invitational, a campus wide simulation that includes online students who fly in. During April of 2013 the event was comprised of a mock legislature in which students took responsibilities in detailed roles as state senators for a solid school week, 24 hours a day. During this simulation they were assigned 32 bills that failed in the Utah legislative session, or bills that passed but were either controversial or altered by the faculty to provide additional challenges. New legislation was also permitted to arise from the students. In addition to faculty acting as proxies for lobbyists, surrogates from the political community participated in committee hearings as well. Six Utah legislators participated in the simulation over the week, sometimes even lobbying against their own legislation, culminating with the final day being held on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Utah Capitol and a debriefing by Utah Governor Herbert.
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