We assume that Southerners have a great pride in their region. We presume that Southern politics is just more interesting than what’s going on in New England, the Midwest, or other parts of the country. But what’s happening in the college classroom might surprise you a bit.
Whether it’s a Southerner who adores Dixie or a non-Southerner who despises the place, there’s something for everyone to be interested in the South. The fascination is not limited to the USA. A colleague from LaGrange College’s English Department who became a Visiting professor at a Japanese university was deluged with questions about Scarlett O’Hara and “Gone With the Wind,” the way some Americans are fascinated with the Geisha culture.
There’s an incredible amount of literature devoted to the region as a special case, whether it’s something by V.O. Key Jr., Earl and Merle Black, Charles Bullock or former Congressman Glen Browder. With all of this interest and rich literature, there’s a myth that Southern politics is probably the next class to be taught right after American Government on college campuses in the South, right?
To determine this, we looked at college catalogs to see if Southern politics is listed among the course offerings at a pair of academic institutions in a pair of Southern states.
While my colleague Mr. Meares looked at South Carolina, I analyzed Georgia.
We found that only 22.7 percent of colleges and universities in the South have a course on Southern politics, or something like it. Had we included twoyear colleges and technical schools, the percentage would be much lower, according to Mr. Meares.
Additionally, we found that the Peach State and Palmetto State offered the classes at similar rates, with little difference. Historically black colleges were not significantly more likely to teach the class. Public schools were only slightly more likely to teach the subject, depending upon other factors. School enrollment was not a strong factor in whether or not the class was offered.
We only found two consistent factors that lead “Southern Politics” to make the course catalog at a college: the size of the political science faculty and the offering of a “Race and Politics” course as well. Bigger faculty, as opposed to more students, leads to an increase in Southern politics classes. And the teaching of Race & Politics makes Southern Politics more likely to be covered.
Our research discovered that something else was on its way out of academia.
Not only is Southern politics less likely to fascinate the residents of this region, but the scientific study of politics may be dissipating as well. Roughly one-third of all schools in our survey didn’t have a single political scientist, with another third having fewer than five.
Why is this distressing? Another survey of online syllabi using a leading Southern Politics book found a 2:1 ratio of non-Southern schools to Southern schools teaching the course. It’s clear that if Southern schools won’t teach about the politics of their region, others are more than willing to fill the void. And Southerners may come to regret that.
John A. Tures, associate professor of political science at LaGrange College, jtures@ lagrange.edu. Wes Meares is an undergraduate at the college.