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Vice President Walter Mondale standing next to President Jimmy Carter on the White House lawn

Vice President Walter Mondale shares a moment with President Jimmy Carter on the White House lawn.

Vice President Mondale returns to the classroom

By Rick Moore

May 3, 2007; updated May 25

"Once in a lifetime" will be coming around in a few short months for a couple hundred students at the University of Minnesota. They're the ones who were quick to sign up for this fall's public affairs course, Topics in Social Policy: America's Constitutional Crisis, with Walter Mondale.

That's right, the former Vice President of the United States (1977-1981), U.S. senator, and ambassador to Japan will be returning to his alma mater to teach a lower-level course examining the ongoing battle between the President and Congress over control of the country's most vital decisions.

Mondale will teach the class with Larry Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute. It will be the second time the two have paired to teach a public affairs course. Last fall they taught a public leadership seminar for 15 lucky students.

"I've been a teacher for 18 years, and I've never had such a stimulating experience," says Jacobs of that course.

The class went so well and feedback was so positive that Jacobs pitched the idea of teaching another class to Mondale, who was quick to accept the invitation. Says Jacobs: "He had such a good time in the fall that there wasn't a whole lot of discussion."

"Mr. Mondale is a very good teacher," Jacobs says. "His approach is to raise questions--to offer insight, but to get the students to think for themselves."

Prior to the start of registration, Jacobs figured about 100 students might sign up for the course. Instead, 100 signed up in the first couple of hours, and the totals kept climbing until the course was capped at about 245 students. (Students can still sign up to be on the wait list.)

According to the course description for PA 1490, "debate over whether the President or Congress has the authority to make domestic and, especially, foreign policy has riveted national attention for the past 40 years, disrupting government and undermining the legitimacy of American public policy."

The course will investigate that debate, using case studies dating back to the Truman presidency. According to Jacobs, Mondale feels that the United States needs a strong Congress and also a strong President. And despite the fact Mondale is a Democrat, "A lot of the issues you see him dealing with [and that students will be discussing] have nothing to do with being Democrat or Republican," Jacobs says.

Mondale is looking forward to returning to campus. "I love teaching students at Minnesota," he says. "They're very smart and hopeful, and they really learn fast. It's fun to be around them."

He received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the U in 1951, as well as his law degree in 1956. After serving as Minnesota's attorney general from 1960-64 he was a two-term senator, from 1964-1976. He then was Vice President for a term with President Jimmy Carter, and later became ambassador to Japan (1993-1996). He rejoined the Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney as a partner in 1997. Six years ago the University's Board of Regents voted to name the U's law school after Mondale.

Jacobs notes that Mondale is a committed instructor and is "intense and very focused" on the upcoming class. And if his credentials and enthusiasm weren't enough, he's also teaching the course without pay, which Jacobs notes is "a very substantial and generous gift of his time."

"Mr. Mondale is a very good teacher," he adds. "His approach is to raise questions--to offer insight, but to get the students to think for themselves."

All of which leaves Jacobs as eager as his students to partake in what the class description says is "a once in a lifetime course."

"It's going to be an incredible class," Jacobs says. "I can't believe I get to teach with him [again]."