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In Rep. Adrian Smith’s case, those who can, teach.
The Nebraska Republican turned the old saying on its head this spring after taking a second gig as a George Washington University professor.
In “The Member’s Perspective: Running and Ruling,” Smith and his chief of staff, Jeff Shapiro, offered an inside look into life on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill to 22 students in the college’s Graduate School of Political Management.
The class wasn’t simply a show-and-tell of the two Capitol Hill professors’ personal experiences, however. The syllabus stated that by the end of the course, students would “be aware of what to consider in assessing running for office, how to prioritize their time and resources once elected, and learn how to balance competing areas of influence in order to be successful.”
In assignments, students analyzed incumbent Members who suffered defeat in the 2010 midterms, developed plans for running campaigns and role-played how they would run real-life Congressional districts.
“The feedback we got from their perspective was invaluable,” student John Boyer said. “And Adrian made it to class more often than I thought he was going to. Having people who do this for a living, and having their opinion at hand, was invaluable.”
Smith, who spent four years in education before he was elected to the Nebraska state Senate, said he found balancing the time between serving as a Member and teaching a graduate-level course a worthwhile challenge.
“Working with these students was a great experience, particularly at GWU because of its rich history and tradition,” Smith wrote in an email. “Finding time to teach a class will always be a challenge because of the demands of the Congressional schedule, but this experience was terrific.”
According to Steven Billet, director of the legislative affairs program and associate professor of political management, the university worked with the House Ethics Committee to ensure Smith and Shapiro’s compensation — just a few thousand dollars between them — fulfilled the appropriate requirements.
“We had to go through the whole deal with the Ethics Committee and it didn’t take too long,” he said. “No one’s getting rich teaching, that’s for sure, and he and Jeff are sharing the compensation, which is just a few thousand dollars. Because of the fairly strict rules on this thing, we punched all the cards on this.”
To get their teaching careers off the ground, the Congressman and his chief of staff had to jump through some minor hoops — from figuring out compensation to devising lesson plans, all the while representing Nebraska’s 3rd district — but the end result offered a lucky group of students a rare firsthand look into Congress.