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Bill Claiborne, Tutor (Political Journalism). Member since 2005
Covering the civil war in Somalia in 1992, Bill celebrates the return of his Somali bodyguard's AK-47 rifle after it was confiscated by US Marines during the US military intervention.
I joined U3A shortly after my wife, Alma, and I migrated to Australia in 2001 in order to live closer to our daughter and grandchildren. This was following my retirement from 43 years in journalism, the last 32 of which were as a foreign correspondent and national news staff writer with The Washington Post.
I’ve forgotten where I first heard about U3A, but it was shortly after we bought a house in Kew and I joined a current affairs year-around course held at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn. As Hercule Poirot is fond of saying, I felt I needed to keep the little grey cells active. After we moved to North Carlton in 2005 (Kew wasn’t urban enough to suit us) I began tutoring short courses in which I tried to make the American political system more understandable to Australians in a mature-age educational setting.
I had done a bit of guest lecturing to journalism school students but quickly discovered that as a consequence of the decline of journalism as I knew it, most of the young students were more interested in sound bites, real-time blogging and 140-character tweets than they were in substantive, serious journalism. Some struck me as just wanting to tick a box on their way to a career in public relations or marketing.
In U3A, however, I found mature-age students who soak up knowledge like sponges and truly appreciate the opportunity to learn about the complex and often confusing form of American democracy that recently has found itself in political and economic crisis – largely because of a dysfunctional legislative branch of government. The 2008 US Presidential election provided considerable fodder for courses aimed at explaining the Barack Obama phenomenon and its contrast to the eight turbulent years of George W Bush.
I’ve also become quite busy writing for the Harvard University Nieman Foundation’s Policy Watchdog project, which advises young journalists on questions to pose to prevaricating politicians when they blow smoke around important domestic and foreign policy issues. (www.niemanwatchdog.org ). And I try to take the same approach during the various U3A courses I conduct.
Because of writing commitments and the large amount of travel that my wife and I want to continue doing, both in Australia and abroad, I’ll continue to be restricted to short courses when they can be fitted in. If I were to propose any changes in the U3A course system, I would have to say it would be a need for more flexibility for tutors to schedule short courses on much shorter notice than currently allowed. But I do understand that the necessity of reserving classrooms far in advance is an issue for administration.
Bill Claiborne, August 2011