Note: Live video of “The Presidency and the Media” is available on the Kenyon Facebook page.
Professor of Political Science John Elliott H’17, whose 47-year career at Kenyon is one of the longest in the College’s history, began teaching during the Nixon administration. Nine presidents later, he is retiring during the Trump administration, and Kenyon is celebrating his career with a panel discussion titled “The Presidency and the Media.” A panel of three alumni who have worked in politics and journalism will be moderated by their former professor during Reunion Weekend on Saturday, May 27, at 3 p.m. in the Bolton Theater.
Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13, editor-in-chief emeritus of Bloomberg News, is one of the panel participants. “I loved his course that I took on the American presidency,” Winkler said. “I was taking the course at the time of the crisis of the presidency because Nixon would have been impeached and he had to resign … so the presidency at the time was arguably the most topical and important subject, and Elliott was there with all the goods.”
Winkler plans to discuss “big issues that the press and the pundits together just ignored, failed to address, in the context of the 2016 election.” He added, “Our job is to produce the facts, and so many facts were missing last year from the campaign.”
Joining Winkler on the panel is former congressman Zack Space ’83, who represented Ohio’s 18th congressional district (including Gambier) from 2007 to 2011. “Professor Elliott unquestionably influenced my perspective on politics, and thus, my career,” said Space, who took “Liberal Democracy in America” with Elliott. “He lit a fuse for a passion for politics that I still carry.”
Also participating on the panel is Liz Scheltens ’09, who produces videos for Vox, a news and opinion website. She remembers Elliott as a professor who “always made me feel like what I had to say was thoughtful and was important, but always pushed me to take it to the next level in terms of analytical rigor.”
“He’s really a model for a type of teaching and a type of learning environment that can make students feel confident, but also challenge them and get them to examine their ideas and their beliefs more critically,” she added.
During the panel, Scheltens hopes to bring the perspective of “someone who is in the daily grind of making decisions about what to cover and what to ignore,” she said. “I see my mission very differently as a journalist than someone who would have had my same job title 20 years ago.”
Professor David Rowe, chair of the Department of Political Science, thinks the alumni panel is a fitting way to conclude Elliott’s career. “If you’re going to retire, the way to celebrate that is to bring these people back and allow them to tell John how influential he has been for them,” he said. Rowe also noted Elliott’s influence on his departmental colleagues. “As a scholar, John is wonderful. He has a very deep and subtle understanding of American politics,” Rowe said, adding, “He’s always been a quiet, steady, humble, faithful, humorous, wonderful friend.”
Elliott is happy to have devoted his career to synthesizing study of the presidency and news media. “The whole linkage of these things is what this panel is to some degree about, and what I do there, I think, is one of the most creative things I’ve done as a teacher,” he said. Elliott also taught his course “The American Presidency” for the final time during the past semester. “I have been claiming, for this year, that this is the most difficult course at the College,” he joked. “Trying to explain Donald Trump is beyond whatever those physicists are doing over there,” Elliott added, gesturing out his office window toward the Science Quad.