Faculty Feature: Dr. Lynn Eckert
As a young girl growing up in Philadelphia, Dr. Lynn Eckert and her family would settle down for Sunday night dinners around the family table. Politics inevitably became the topic of conversation. Years later, feeling unhappy in her Economy major at Gettysburg College, Dr. Eckert harkened back to those days sitting around the table.
“I decided, ‘You know, I really like politics. I’m gonna study politics. That’s what’s familiar to me, it’s what I grew up around the table talking about and I wanna know more about it,’” Eckert said.
From that day forth, Dr. Eckert pursued her passion for political science. She began teaching at Marist in 2001, and not even a month later 9/11’s grip engulfed the U.S., along with the Marist College community, in paralyzing fear and grief. Seventeen years and innumerable earthshaking world events later, Dr. Eckert continues to teach at Marist and to share her wisdom, passion, and enthusiasm with students.
Q: How did 9/11 affect the beginning of your Marist experience?
A: There was a lot of anxiety and fear, and people were just in a great deal of pain. I remember pretty clearly speaking at the event which would have been within the next day or so. I remember on Sept. 11 I didn’t teach that day and I was at home, furiously prepping. I was a new professor, I had four classes to prep for. It was a very stunning event, and of course here at Marist you have people who have family who were hurt or harmed. It felt very immediate in a lot of ways.
Q: What specific aspects of political science are you particularly interested in?
A: Law. Constitutional law. I have a book that I’m working on, and it’s about pornography regulation and the First Amendment. I’ve got another book project in the works, which is gay rights. To me, I’ve always really loved the law. I don’t approach law from the perspective of a lawyer. I definitely approach law from the perspective of a political scientist, and in particular a political theorist. That gives me a little more leeway than I think if I was just sort of bound by having to argue in ways that lawyers have to argue. Alongside of that, really, feminist theory inevitably is a part of both those things.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach?
A: That’s so interesting. I don’t think I have a favorite class. I think different classes have different virtues and vices, and I think it’s always very special to get to teach upper-level major students because you’ve seen them grow up. By the time they’re juniors and seniors, they’re these substantive adults that are on the precipice of going out there and starting a new career, whatever that is – graduate school, law school or job or whatever it is. You just really see the transformation. Any upper-level class is a great thrill for me. And also the lower-level classes have their virtues, too.
I just think it’s a great privilege to teach. I’d be reading and studying this stuff for free, so the idea that I get to go on and talk to other people about it...I can’t think of a better job. It’s hard this time of year too because you’ve seen students grow from first year to senior year. For you guys it’s all new beginnings. For us, we have to say goodbye to you guys, so it’s a bittersweet moment for us. I think those upper-level classes, particularly in the spring semester, are very meaningful.
Q: What jobs or internships did you have before coming to Marist?
A: One of my favorite experiences as an undergraduate was [when] I did the Washington semester at AU [American University]. It was a long time ago, but I just loved it.
I had this whole internship set up with a PAC, and I got down there and the PAC folded at the last minute. They called me and they said, “We’ve all been fired and you don’t have an internship.” I scrambled and I ended up getting a job on the Hill, which I really loved. Internships on the Hill aren’t necessarily substantive, but they made a mistake: they gave me a background pass that I shouldn’t have had, so I was able to get to walk on the floor of both the House and the Senate and go to some places I wasn’t supposed to. I made the most use out of that pass.
And then when I graduated, I worked for a good government group called the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia. It emerged out of the Progressive Era and I worked there for a couple of years. Then, I started a business with my sister and a friend. We did that for a while, and then I said, “I really wanna go to graduate school.” They stayed on. They did very, very well.
Q: What was the business?
A: The business was an event marketing business. I served in a marginal Board of Directors kind of post, but it had a good run. It was definitely something I knew that wouldn’t be fulfilling to me, so I applied to graduate school. I rolled the dice. I knew that I didn’t come from a wealthy family so I knew I had to get funded if I was gonna go. I just applied and waited to see if anyone gave me funding and then luckily enough I had some choices to make. I’ve never regretted that decision. That was the right decision for me.
Q: You’ve attained your doctorate. What advice would you give to students pursuing such a high degree? What motivated you throughout that process?
A: For me, the PhD was just so useful and so valuable. Even if I decided not to go into academia, if I decided to go into business...no matter what I decided to do, it was just so fulfilling for me. It sharpened my thinking and I learned so much more than I did at the undergrad level. The undergrad level set a good foundation, but at the grad level you really get to explore your interests and the world of ideas opens up to you.
To me, it’s a great degree to have and great preparation for whatever you do in life. I think it’s a great degree if you intend to run for political office, and I think we need more people to do that. We should have people running for political office who don’t have backgrounds in law or sort of a traditional way to get into politics. Again, it was such a great privilege. While everyone else was in their cubicle, their nine-to-five jobs or doing whatever they were doing, I was getting to hear from these professors who were enormously thoughtful, reading [about] some of the greatest theorists and hanging around and talking to my colleagues. I had to grade papers and teach as well, but what a tremendous privilege.
I think you have to pursue your passion. I really do. You’re gonna have to spend a lot of time working in life. You might as well do something you really love.
Q: What do you love about the Marist College community?
A: My colleagues, one. My colleagues are a real source of inspiration and I think there’s a real source of camaraderie. I think my students, especially my major students. They’re amazing. They’re way smarter than I am, and they’re gonna go out there and do really impressive and amazing things. Unfortunately, sometimes in the college, we get a little siloed. I’m siloed here in Fontaine, so it’s mostly School of Liberal Arts people and it’s mostly School of Liberal Arts students. But the people I interact with every day in the School of Liberal Arts...I feel so lucky to have them be my colleagues and my students are really amazing.
Q: My last question for you is what’s a lesson you really hope to impart to your students?
A: If you asked me that earlier in my career, I would have had greater certainty about that. I hope that they remain committed to thinking deeply, thinking critically, not deferring to authority...that they have enough wherewithal to stand up for what’s right, and that’s sometimes really difficult in institutions when everyone else around you is telling you something different.
I hope that they look at some of the great thinkers, some of the great political actors in life. I studied Supreme Court people who’ve gone to great risk in order to bring a case to court, in order to change our understanding of the Constitution and move towards this more transgressive understanding of equality. It took a lot of courage, and I hope that those examples, all of those different aspects that we study, serve as an example for my students to go out there and to take risks; to be thoughtful, and careful, and calculating about those risks, but nonetheless take those risks and also to be committed to what they think is right.