UH Honors College Offering Course Focused on Presidential Debates

Students Closely Observing Debates, Campaign Communication from Past, Present Elections

This semester, a group of students has been particularly focused on the discourse emanating from both Democratic and Republican presidential debates.

UH’s Honors College is hosting a course exploring the televised dialogues between candidates. Taught by Sarah Spring, director of UH’s award-winning Speech and Debate program, Presidential Campaigns and Debates (Honors 3397) explores political communication in the past and present election cycles. Topics include differences in debates and communications during both primary and general elections and observing how the form of debates (moderators, audiences, staging) impacts content.

Spring has tasked students with documenting observations in an online blog, analyzing a singular debate and applying theories to how certain election cycles have affected the tone of debates.

“I’ve asked students to identify an aspect of each debate they have found interesting and discuss it in the blog,” Spring said. “They also must preview upcoming debates from an academic perspective. There’s plenty of content in the media, but we’re trying to add some fresh thoughts to inform audiences.”

Students also are examining the portrayal of debates in television shows and films. Shows examined include “Parks and Recreation,” “Veep,” “The Newsroom” and “The West Wing.”

Spring also will engage students in discussions on the increasing media attention placed on presidential debates and explore debates through the decades.

This week, students will keep their eyes on CNN or Telemundo to watch Republican candidates on the stage of UH’s Moores Opera House. In addition to the regularly assigned blog post, Spring’s students will brainstorm on how to make this event particularly interactive.

“The students in this class have become good at watching these debates with a critical eye,” she said. “They’re not just critiquing what is said. They’re looking at the moderator, the setting, the crowd … those sort of things. These kinds of events influence the outcomes of elections. The academic study of debates is important in understanding their importance and prominence in 21st-century politics.”

The Honors College at UH is a hub of excellence that serves the needs of gifted undergraduates in more than 100 fields of study and reflects the rich diversity of the University of Houston in its courses, faculty and students. For over 50 years, the Honors College has offered students the best of both worlds: the advantages of a small college together with the comprehensive resources and rich diversity of a large university. For more information about the Honors College, visit http://TheHonorsCollege.com.