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Professor Profile: Steven Gerencser

Published: Thursday, September 11, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 19:09

Rebecca Gibson

Political science does not sound like a fascinating subject; not until you talk to political science professor Dr. Steven Gerencser.

"Mostly in the upper level, the 300 and 400 level classes, what I teach is political philosophy and political theory," said Gerencser. His classes for this semester, Human Behavioral and Social Institutions and Modern Political Thought, both cover the "why" of politics. Gerencser admits that the "why" for the class can sometimes be confusing.

"Students will walk in and wonder why they are reading these books that seem so abstract or so little connected with the world we are living in right now," said Gerencser. "I like to think of it as archeological work. How did the world turn out the way it is now? Where did those ideas come from?"

His goal is to deepen the understanding of what happens in each of the political societies of the world, and to explain where the thinking came from - be it ancient societies or from newer, differing thought memes. That goal is revealed, in part, by the subtitle of his human behavior class: "Studying Politics, Questioning Democracy."

Gerencser began teaching at IU South Bend in 1997, having completed his PhD in political science at the University of Minnesota. While working toward his doctoral degree, he taught at the University of Minnesota and at Anoka College, a small college for the liberal arts. Here at IU South Bend, Gerencser is active in many facets of college life - including time spent on the Faculty disciplinary committee and the Academic Senate Committee on Teaching.

In the spring of 1996, Gerencser accepted an offer from the United States Information Agency, which is part of the State Department, to participate in a program on political exchanges. The department gathered scholars to talk to other countries and share knowledge with their governments.

Gerencser spent two weeks in Albania, at an extremely interesting time in their development. Albania, which was previously allied with the USSR and China, was in a state of flux during Gerencser's visit.

"I was there right during the period of time when they were having an election for really the first time since their transition to a democratic society!" As the country was quite busy, he was assigned a translator and given free reign.

Gerencser's unique position as an observer in Albania made him ponder what it means to live in a democracy like America. "There were complications with that election, there was excitement, there was anxiety and there was a lot of nervous tension," said Gerenscer. It made him think differently about our elections when he returned to the States. Whereas Gerencser got to witness the birth of a nation in Albania, our nation is well established, and we no longer have to think about how, why, and if our democracy works.

He returned just in time for the 1996 reelection of Bill Clinton, and noticed how much less Americans cared to inform themselves.

"People were out in the city squares talking about it [how effective their vote would be] and a lot of times people couldn't afford to buy newspapers, but there were places where someone had stapled up eight pages of the newspaper, and you would see dozens of people had gathered around reading it," said Gerencser. It seemed to him to be both a good and bad thing - this lack of need to participate.

"Sometimes I would be very critical of my fellow citizens, saying 'Wake up, take advantage!' But, on the other hand, I see it as a real advantage to say that things will be fine whether I participate or not."

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