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Meet Jerry Polinard

BY Lesley Robles | THE RIDER

Lesley Robles/The Rider
Lesley Robles/The Rider

Name: Jerry Polinard

Title: Professor

Department: Political Science

Degrees: Bachelor’s and masters’ degrees in government from Texas A&I University and a doctorate in government, University of Arizona,

Hometown: Corpus Christi

What made you pursue teaching? “Back then I was thinking about law school and then when I was in my senior year, one of the professors of A&I–in fact, he would later direct my master’s thesis–but both he and the department chair both talked to me about teaching. A lot of the seniors came back on break and they weren’t as excited about it. My favorite course, the course that really did change my life, was a course called Constitutional Law, which I teach now. When I found out that you can get a Ph.D. in government and focus on constitutional law, that really sounded more interesting to me. So, the influence of a couple of professors are what really pushed me into it. When I got to Arizona, it’s very common to be a teaching assistant. In most cases teaching assistants work with a professor. Since I had a master’s degree, they actually gave me my own class, which was pretty terrifying because I had literally just turned 23. One of the classes they gave me was required of senior education majors. So I’m one to two years older than most of the students and I thought, ‘My God.’ I still remember the first week in class. I remember thinking this is fantastic, this is just fantastic. I love the classroom. No lawyer has as much fun as I have.”

What brought you to UTRGV? “Essentially, it was a chance to return to South Texas because I was teaching in Oklahoma State. Basically, it was a combination of factors, location and money. We had not had any raises in Oklahoma. When they brought me in I got a promotion.”

As a professor in the Department of Political Science, what are your duties? “They generally break into three different areas: First, teaching; research; and then third, service. I am currently doing research in the attitudes that Latinos have towards the Supreme Court, particularly with the nomination and confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, who became the first Latina in the Supreme Court.”

What do you do for students? “My approach to the class is what they call a Socratic method. I am not a good lecturer. I fall asleep when I lecture. What I do is, basically, the classroom is a conversation and by asking questions that takes the part of the lecture. The facts, the students can find in the textbook.What I am more interested in is the why. Why is this? What’s the impact of this? As we look at this presidential election, it’s important that you all know how the Electoral College works. In different points of the semester we will look not so much of the characteristics of political parties, but what role do parties play and why or how important that is. I am more interested in not just how you answer the question why when I ask it, but very importantly when do you ask the question why. The overall goal is to work on critical-thinking skills, speaking, thinking and writing. If you think critically, you will be able to speak critically. Facts are important, but that is not what I emphasize.”

What classes do you teach? “I teach U.S. and Texas Government I & II for honors students, U.S. Constitutional Law, U.S. Judicial Process and I am a movie fanatic, so I developed a course in Film and Politics.”

What was the last book you read? “I am reading a book on the current Supreme Court and I can’t even remember what it’s called. It’s an analysis of [John] Roberts’ court since he is the chief justice. The book I read before that was a book called the ‘Bully Pulpit,’ and it looked at the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.”

What are some of the songs on your music playlist? “Oh gosh, I don’t have a playlist. I’m an old dude. For me, after Elvis Presley, shoot, it all went downhill. You know, forget the cockroaches. No, no The Beatles, that’s what they are called. I love Big Band music, the old Big Band sounds.”

What do you like to do on your free time? “I enjoy the reading. I’m a movie fanatic, so I like to go to the movies. I just enjoy, in general, typical leisure stuff. I am the lead commissioner of the oldest fantasy football league in South Texas. I am very proud of that. We started before your folks were born, probably our first year was 1977. I get a kick out of looking back at that. You have heard me say it: ‘I’ve got the best job in the world.’ There is no better job than being a political science professor. We get to talk about the now. I like to pull the math colleagues, two plus two is always four. Next fall we won’t be talking about the presidential elections, we will be talking about something else. It always changes, and it always has a direct impact on our lives.”

Would you like to add anything else? “Well, I was once asked by a friend who teaches at Duke, he said: ‘What would the title of your autobiography be?’ I said, ‘Luckiest Guy in the World.’ That is just the whole thing, the time period I have been growing up with. The period of the civil rights stuff and people on the moon. Then we have the incredible impact of social media and the internet, to see that change. [Former Supreme Court Associate Justice] Felix Frankfurter once said, ‘Technological change always results in social change.’ And, right now it proves that more than anything he has ever done. So, I mean look at social media. Your concept of privacy is so totally different from the previous student generation. Somebody can always get a hold of you by texting you. It is just a totally different view of how we relate to each other and that is so fascinating to watch. Again, there is no better place to watch it than being in a university environment, even though that it’s changing. I always say I am a dinosaur because every semester we brag about increasing the number of online classes. In another generation, your kids will probably not have classrooms like this or be sitting in an office with a teacher. That aspect of technology is inevitable because it is cheaper for the state, and the students, but still watching the evolution, it is just so interesting. I can’t think of another profession that is always on cutting edge because that’s you all. I am the variable. I’m always older, you all are always the same: 18,19, 20, 21.”

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