In this series, City on a Hill Press will be interviewing community members who are currently making a mark on UC Santa Cruz’s campus.
Kicking off the series is Daniel Wirls, a professor of politics, who has published two books, “Irrational Security: The Politics of Defense from Reagan to Obama” and “The Invention of the United States Senate.” Currently he is teaching Politics 1, Politics: Power, Principle, Process, and Policy.
City on a Hill Press: What do you think of the level of political activism at UCSC?
Wirls: I’d say that I’m happy that there are a lot of students involved in a lot of things. That sometimes is a problem though — there isn’t so much a movement around a few focal causes, sort of a disadvantage when everybody is standing in the quarry soliciting their own individual causes. So I’d say that you certainly have more students involved in different things than you ever did. What this accomplishes is yet to be seen.
CHP: Teaching politics at UCSC, what are the challenges you face in interpreting the world of politics for your students?
Wirls: Current events sort of overwhelm the class — getting across certain concepts and making sure they relate to what’s going on in the world.
CHP: How would you compare teaching politics at UCSC with other schools?
Wirls: Well this has been really my one and only job teaching politics. I arrived on campus when I was 28, right out of graduate school, so aside from doing a little bit of teaching as a grad student for Cornell, my entire teaching experience has been at UCSC. In effect, I arrived here only seven or so years older than the people I was teaching. And of course I was younger than a few of the people I was teaching.
CHP: Did that factor disadvantage you in any way?
Wirls: No, I just thought it was fun. There were a couple times when the staff on campus would mistake me for a student, but that was just kind of funny.
CHP: You’ve often been described to me by other students as very passionate about what you teach — where does that passion come from?
Wirls: I care deeply about what goes on in the world and the problems within it, but I don’t intend to preach to everyone about how they should care about the world or stand on particular issues. My main goal is really to be passionate about the political process itself. Politics is rather difficult and unsightly, but you have to stick with it and learn how it works to organize your passion as an activist around it, using as a foundation that knowledge of how it works. In politics you’re not just a student, but also a citizen and active participant.