The poster promised "free pizza and refreshments," and the invitation went out to "all majors and ages." So I wasn't quite sure what I'd see when I walked into Brother Willie's Pub on April 8th. I was there to find out what Politics & a Pint was all about, and I half-expected something between a feeding frenzy and a political slug-fest. But it was neither.
This was the 75th session of Politics & a Pint , and this afternoon's guest was economist Dr. Michael Hemesath, who in his day job serves as the president of Saint John's University. Together with two student panelists, he was there to address "The Future of the European Union," and some eighty students, faculty and staff had gathered for the discussion.
Dr. Matt Lindstrom, the director of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement, introduced Politics & a Pint in 2008. He modeled it on a series from Minnesota Public Radio, but to the format he added a key ingredient that radio can't duplicate: Brother Willie's Pub. Brother Willie's evokes the atmosphere of British and colonial-American pubs, where lively discourse was always the order of the day. And the discussions are lively, even if soft drinks and pizza have replaced the ale.
Lindstrom departed from the radio program in one other element. This is run by and for students, with all the benefits that come from that. Though Lindstrom occasionally pitches in to invite a high-profile guest, it's the students who organize it, sit on the panels with the guest speakers, moderate the panels, and offer questions and commentary from the floor.
Participants have come to expect a varied menu of subjects, and guests have run the gamut from Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to Saint John's alumnus Bishop Donald Kettler ('70) of Saint Cloud. This variety is intentional, says Lindstrom. "They're chosen with one ear to the diverse interests of students, and the other ear turned to national and global current events." Sooner or later there's something for everyone.
That afternoon's session met everything on Lindstrom's checklist. Dr. Hemesath outlined his assessment of the future of the European Union. His fellow panelists offered insights from their time in studies abroad, while students in the audience chimed in with questions and analyses. And on the sidelines sat Dr. Lindstrom, delighted to maintain radio silence.
Politics & a Pint is one of several programs sponsored by The McCarthy Center. Established in 2006, the Center serves both majors and minors in the Political Science Department, but the benefactors who funded the Center also intended that it structure opportunities for students from a diversity of academic disciplines. Under Lindstrom's leadership it's done just that. It's what a residential liberal arts college is uniquely positioned to do, and it's what Saint John's does so well.