UD launches Center for Political Communication
Ralph Begleiter, left, moderates a presentation by David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Barack Obama.


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7:19 a.m., Nov. 19, 2009----The University of Delaware is creating a new multidisciplinary Center for Political Communication to study and teach about the information technology revolution's effect on campaigns for public office and policy debates.

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The revolution, which emerged in the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign and more fully in 2008, involves the use of people-to-people networking technologies enabling candidates and policy advocates to influence and react to public opinion more quickly than ever. A major goal is to encourage student engagement in national and global politics.

UD's new Center for Political Communication (CPC) consolidates faculty expertise in emerging communication technologies, encourages research at the intersection of politics, policy and technology, and offers public and undergraduate programs around that intersection. Applications of these techniques are in use not only in the United States, but also by political actors around the world, in both democratic and non-democratic environments.

“Political communication is an emerging field of great importance, as Americans saw a transformation of political campaigns through the use of new digital technologies during the 2008 presidential election,” UD President Patrick Harker said. “The University of Delaware is uniquely positioned to provide leadership in this area and is proud to announce this new center.”

The University was dubbed “the epicenter of politics” by Bloomberg News because Vice President Joe Biden and the top strategists for the 2008 campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain were students at UD. Newly-elected New Jersey governor Chris Christie is also a UD alumnus. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and McCain strategist Steve Schmidt have joined forces to support the new UD center and to encourage student engagement.

The Center for Political Communication is a nonpartisan program. It has already offered two series of public events featuring key political operatives from the 2008 campaign, including Schmidt, Plouffe and Obama's top White House adviser David Axelrod, as well as former Republican National Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, who is scheduled to speak at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 2, in Mitchell Hall.

The center will build on a record of successful collaboration established by the University's departments of Political Science and International Relations and Communication.

UD faculty associated with the new Center for Political Communication include Lindsay Hoffman and Danna Young in Communication and David Wilson and Phillip Jones in Political Science.

The director of the center is former CNN correspondent Ralph Begleiter, Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence. Together, the CPC faculty represents a powerful core of research and teaching in political communication and public opinion.

These faculty and the two departments have developed a new UD undergraduate minor in political communication, expected to get underway next fall. The College of Arts and Sciences has awarded a major grant to the CPC faculty for an initial research project, and a public opinion project directed by Wilson is also starting.

“We are pleased that Ralph Begleiter has agreed to serve as the Center's founding director,” said George Watson, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Professor Begleiter's distinguished career, expertise and passion will undoubtedly allow this initiative to flourish and serve as a resource for students, scholars and the media.”

Begleiter brings more than 30 years of broadcast journalism experience to the center and the University, where he is an award-winning instructor in communication, journalism, and political science. During two decades as CNN's “world affairs correspondent,” Begleiter was the network's most widely-traveled reporter. He has worked in some 97 countries on all 7 continents and has covered many historic events at the end of the 20th century.

Since leaving CNN, Begleiter has hosted the Foreign Policy Association's annual “Great Decisions” television discussion series, aired on Public Broadcasting System stations and produced in conjunction with UD. He has received numerous press awards including, in 1994, the Weintal Prize from Georgetown University's Graduate School of Foreign Service, one of diplomatic reporting's highest honors.

In 2008, the Delaware Press Association named him Communicator of Achievement, honoring “a lifetime of achievement in the communications profession...and exemplary service to the community and to humanity as well as to the profession.”

In 2009, he earned the College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching award.

“There are obviously many other outstanding universities where students can learn about politics and policy,” said Begleiter. “We think we're among the first to recognize political communication, especially involving new technologies and an electorate increasingly using them, as a distinct field worthy of study by students, faculty researchers and practitioners. And seeing this through a multidisciplinary lens, with the guidance and battlefield expertise of professionals like David Plouffe, Steve Schmidt and others, we hope will help our students and faculty -- as well as the nation -- experience more effective, more ethical, more understandable, more substantive democracy.”

Begleiter said political communication combines a range of academic disciplines, among them political science and international relations, communication, visual communication, marketing and sociology.

Support for the Center for Political Communication comes from the College of Arts and Sciences, but Begleiter noted that as the program expands, he anticipates it becoming a University-wide initiative with national and international implications for students, faculty and the public.

“We believe political communication technologies and tactics are of enormous interest in the business and corporate world, which seeks to influence both consumers and public policy. I expect support for our research and programs to come from a wide array of interested parties, well beyond traditional political actors,” Begleiter said.

Among the anticipated activities of the center are:

-- Development of the next generation of political leadership, informed by experience of the past, technologies of the future and vital issues focus. Programs will include faculty-student mentorships and research collaborations, as well as internships in campaign management and messaging.

-- Research colloquia focused on how new technologies build student participation

-- Cross-disciplinary research featuring faculty/faculty and faculty/student teams

-- Public political communication programs focused on “politics, policy and the new technologies” featuring major national figures, with the first of these to formally inaugurate the center in spring 2010.

-- Laying the foundation to study international use of the new technologies, as well as visual communication and messaging in the political arena

-- Launching an ongoing Delaware Public Opinion Poll that breaks new ground but complements the work now undertaken by the UD Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research in College of Education and Public Policy and the political science department's budding relationships with national polling organizations

-- Launching a new “National Agenda” speaker series, focusing on domestic issues in a manner similar to UD's long-running “Global Agenda” series

-- Developing a political communication certificate program for career professionals in business and politics in the U.S. and democracies abroad, inviting a select class of students for a short, intensive program experiencing and analyzing new technologies used in campaigns and elections in the United States.