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Students learn about lawmakers – from a lawmaker

Jason Barickman on the House floor

State Rep. Jason Barickman is seen on the Illinois House floor. (Photo courtesy of the Illinois House Republicans)

Barickman is seen on the Illinois House floor. (Photo courtesy of the Illinois House Republicans)

Jason Barickman ’98 hit an interesting snag earlier this semester on his first day as an Illinois State University professor: His students didn’t know what to call him.

Professor Barickman? State Representative Barickman? State Senator Barickman? Professor State Senator Representative Barickman?

“I told ’em, just ‘Jason.’” he says.

Barickman, a state representative, soon-to-be state senator, and attorney, is now also an educator. On Monday nights, the 37-year-old is teaching his first course, POL 221, on the structures and functions of state and local governments. His return to Illinois State stemmed from conversations with University President Al Bowman.

“You only have so many people who have an inside look at how Illinois politics works,” Barickman said.

His students – mostly junior and senior Politics and Government majors – are getting a unique perspective that goes far beyond any textbook. For a recent lesson plan on bureaucracy and corruption, Barickman brought in guest speaker state Rep. Chapin Rose, a colleague who served on the Illinois House impeachment committee that removed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office for corruption. Barickman’s lecture then became a discussion on what ways Illinois’ form of government enables or prohibits corruption.

He picked a nationally regarded textbook for his students, but “it does not provide specifics on Illinois.”

“That’s where I have the opportunity to add value,” Barickman said.

Barickman plays the dual role well. During another recent class focusing on the intersection of politics and the media, the professor asked a Central Illinois talk-radio host to dissect the good and bad qualities of Illinois politicians, knowing full well the conversation would steer toward cynicism about elected officials.

Senior political science major Bob Golden, who wants go to law school, said Barickman “really challenges you” during class discussions, asking aggressive questions and seeking honest input.

“A lot of the time he has a unique perspective that he integrates into the discussion,” Golden said. “You get a real sense of the issues.”

Added Barickman: “I think they like the back-and-forth, rather than just the pure lecture.”

The teaching assignment puts Barickman back in Schroeder Hall, where he spent a good chunk of his four years while an undergraduate student. The Illinois Army National Guard veteran also served as student body president during his senior year, before heading to University of Illinois law school. He interned with the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons and a former Central Illinois congressman, Tom Ewing, and was a graduate assistant to former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Barickman was sworn into office as a state representative in January 2011 and is uncontested on Tuesday’s ballot for state senator from Illinois’ newly redrawn 53rd District, which includes portions of Bloomington-Normal. He also recently joined the Champaign-based law firm of Meyer Capel as a principal, focusing on real estate, and he and his wife, Kristin, are expecting their second child in February.

It’s a busy schedule, and one that now includes weekly coursework prep, grading and lecturing in front of a group of students – some of which may join him in the Illinois General Assembly someday.

“I’m a firm believer of this notion that government decisions are made by those who show up,” Barickman said. “That message is one I’ve tried to use in politics.”

Barickman is not the only Politics and Government professor with firsthand knowledge of the legislative process. U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican from Urbana, will be teaching his first course at Illinois State during the spring semester, following his retirement from Congress after six terms.

Johnson will teach a new eight-week course, Congress and War, beginning March 18. It will examine congressional war powers and their applications during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@ilstu.edu.

 

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