Barry McNamara  |   Published September 21, 2017

The ‘quintessential’ liberal art

New faculty member Audette believes political science suits Monmouth well
 MONMOUTH, Ill. – What is the “quintessential” liberal arts discipline?

New Monmouth College faculty member Andre Audette makes a compelling case for political science.

“I frequently refer to the Aristotle quotation, ‘Political science is the highest science,’” said Audette, who this semester joined the political science department in a tenure-track position. “Political scientists and politicians have to understand a little about a lot of different subjects. To be a good politician, you’d have to know something about roads, for example, so you’d need to know about engineering. And you’d have to know a little about psychology and a little about history, and on and on.

“Political science draws on and allows us to engage in a variety of other disciplines. Studying political science works well at a college like Monmouth. You might say it’s the quintessential liberal arts discipline.”

Audette said he was attracted to Monmouth for the opportunity to work closely with students.

“At Monmouth, the students aren’t just a number,” he said. “As faculty, you get to know them on a more personal level and get to know their personal background. It helps in classroom discussion when you can draw on their personal perspectives.”

What makes voters tick

Within the discipline of political science, Audette is particularly interested in the psychological side, trying to determine what makes voters tick.

“Political psychology is about getting inside the brain and seeing how individuals think about politics,” said Audette, who is teaching that course this fall. “Politics is often viewed as a social interaction. The political psychology course gets inside the individual. What type of tools do we use to make complex decisions? What are the roots of an individual’s morality? How do they make political judgments? It takes into account our emotions and personality and how we learn from our parents.”

Audette knows that parents can be influential. His earliest political memory is casting a vote for president in his pre-K class. He chose Ross Perot (and his running mate, Monmouth alumnus James Stockdale ’46). His parents had questions for him about his decision to vote for the independent candidate.

Perot’s first run for president came in 1992, which was a presidential election full of surprises. Fast forward six presidential elections, and Audette said that he was among the political scientists who were surprised by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

“Like most political scientists, I probably didn’t see it coming,” he said. “I gave a talk at Monmouth shortly after the election, around Thanksgiving, and I explained how Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t reach out as much as she should have to groups such as Latinos and Asian Americans. So I wouldn’t say I knew beforehand, but hindsight is 20-20, and that’s a start to explaining why the election turned out the way it did.”

Three themes

In his research, Audette says he often draws on three major themes: how individuals – especially those from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups – gain political voice; how churches and other linkage institutions mobilize members for political action; and how inequality is reflected in political institutions and affected by a range of public policies.

Audette explores those themes in a course he is teaching this semester on religion in politics, as well as a course focusing on Latino politics, which is a new offering at the College.

He hopes another of his courses, “Law and Politics,” will help shape the campus in a positive way.

“I want to work with the pre-law program here and build up that program a little bit more,” he said.

Audette is also teaching “Introduction to American Politics.”

“I like giving students their first taste of politics,” he said. “We look at politics through a scientific lens versus what we see in the news.”

Before completing his master’s and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame, Audette earned an undergraduate degree at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.). He recalls switching his political science focus during the middle of his career there from continuing his work on political campaigns to becoming a teacher.

“I realized I didn’t want to spend my life raising money,” he said. “But campaigning was very interesting to me. Why did some people slam the door on me, but others would talk to me for more than an hour? I was fascinated with why people vote the way they do, why they care about certain issues, why they align with the parties they do.”
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