Impeachment Trials Impact GLNS Course


Photo by Fanjianhua

Megan Oldak, Multimedia Editor


Dr. Robert Williams, assistant professor for the government, law and national security program at Misericordia University, recognized the importance of the formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald J. Trump and turned it into a learning opportunity for his students.

The impeachment inquiry against Trump was filed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sept. 24, 2019. That action led to the Trump impeachment trial, which officially began Jan. 22. Impeachment of a president has only occurred two times prior, marking this an historic moment in U.S. history.

Williams teaches a course called U.S. Congress that goes into detail about how the two chambers of Congress function. After discussing with his students, it was decided the impeachment trial would be the main focus of the class for however long it lasted.

“The topical change was made because we’re watching a monumental moment in American politics unfold in Congress before our eyes,” Williams said. “No Congress class could pass up that opportunity.”

He further explained that no major changes were made to the class curriculum but, instead, the class would examine the actions of Congress and its members during the impeachment trial.

During each class, the students were able to watch the impeachment proceedings and discuss what was happening as it was occurring in Congress.

“Professor Williams explained what was going on while we were watching it (the impeachment proceedings), so it was nice to get a little background instead of just jumping right in,” commented Bernadine Fox, junior GLNS major.

“Those (the impeachment proceedings) included some of the opening statements and the question and answer period, where we witnessed a rare bipartisan question live. That was very exciting,” Williams said.

Watching the proceedings as they occurred gave students the opportunity to learn about history as it was taking place and apply it to the material they were learning in class. Williams expressed that, although the class’s main focus was on the impeachment proceedings, it was still connected to the original course topics.

“We also studied Senate procedure and learned about how majority and minority leaders in the Senate have less power than their House counterparts,” Williams explained. “However, the power they do have is usually exercised most on procedural votes. This had a direct impact on impeachment proceedings since the most contentious votes were on procedural matters.”

In addition to watching the proceedings, the students have learned about normal Senate procedure, including, but not limited to, how the Senate differs from the House, the power dynamics within the Senate and what factors may influence a Senator’s actions. To reflect what the students have been learning, various assignments have also been adapted to focus on the impeachment trial.

“We actually have an assignment coming up soon about the impeachment,” Fox said. “Basically, we are supposed to act as a Senator from our home state and say how we would vote on various things that the Senate has already voted on, or what they have voted on had certain motions passed. We’re actually going to be putting ourselves in a senator’s shoes. We haven’t actually done it yet, but I think it’s interesting.”

Some other assignments have also been adapted.

“We did replace an assignment that asks students to read and critique an academic article with the impeachment assignment,” Williams said. “In the impeachment assignment, we learn textbook content regarding Congress members’ decision-making calculus in Washington vs. how they weigh their district preferences. Then, we assess whether Senators are looking to their Washington constituency or home district constituency when casting votes on trial rules, whether to admit witnesses, and ultimately whether to convict the president.”

Overall, the response to this new class focus has been positive. When asked what she thought, Fox expressed she was glad about the recent change.

“Presidential impeachment has only occurred a handful of times in our country. For the most part, impeachment is something you’ll likely only experience once in a lifetime,” she said. “I’m glad this is something we decided to focus on since it’s now history.”

The impeachment trial concluded Feb. 5 and the Senate voted to acquit President Trump on both articles of impeachment.

Trump is the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate. Andrew Johnson was the first and Bill Clinton was the third.  Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment charges were filed against him.