Professor Gingrich returns to Ga. college classroom

January 08, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WALESKA, Ga. -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich returned yesterday to his home state and his weekend job as history professor -- and to some of the disputes that have dogged his dual roles as well.

After delivering a two-hour lecture on "Renewing American Civilization," Mr. Gingrich said he had chosen a little-known academic friend, who had been a supporter in a previous battle over the course, to be the new historian of the House of Representatives. And he defended her as having "energy and enthusiasm" for expanding the job's educational side.

Mr. Gingrich dismissed the five employees of the office of House historian last month. Those employees, including the director, were under the impression that their office was being abolished as part of the new Republican majority's efforts to streamline government.

But Mr. Gingrich has since hired Christina Jeffrey, an associate professor of political science at Kennesaw State College, as the new House historian and has given her a broad range of tasks. Ms. Jeffrey sided with Mr. Gingrich when the Georgia Board of Regents barred him from teaching his American civilization course at Kennesaw in 1993 after criticism about its links to his political action committee, GOPAC.

"As speaker, who is a Ph.D in history, I think I have the right to select an academic who has legitimate credentials and who I believe has the enthusiasm and the belief in the American process to help a generation of young people learn why America works the way it does," Mr. Gingrich said. "And I think I may be peculiarly, of all the people who have been speaker, in a legitimate position to make a selection that I think will be helpful in re-establishing the legitimacy of history."

Mr. Gingrich also defended the nonpartisan nature of the course and his qualifications to teach it. After being barred by Kennesaw, the course was transferred to Reinhardt College in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta.

In the class yesterday morning, attended by about 50 students, Mr. Gingrich delivered his first formal lecture as House speaker.

After having breakfast with the two dozen students who are taking the course for credit, Mr. Gingrich delivered his talk from behind a lectern with only sparse notes in a gregarious style that had the students riveted and frequently laughing at his asides, tossed off in his mile-a-minute patter.

Mr. Gingrich, wearing a Habitat for Humanity pin on his lapel, delivered adages like: "America is a great country with good people." "Life is hard, freedom is frustrating."

The ideas of the elites who have run the government, he said, had failed. "There is more poverty, more violence, more red tape, more bureaucrats, more litigation, more power in Washington," the speaker asserted, and less ability "to actually get problems solved." He said these are "measurable and documentable facts."

This is his second year of teaching the course at the tiny private college in Waleska after the Board of Regents said elected officials could not teach at publicly financed schools. The board's statement came after questions were raised about the course's financing and the role of GOPAC in setting it up.

Ms. Jeffrey used a satellite link in the Kennesaw State library to transmit the course to some of her students.

"She has a thorough understanding of American civilization," Mr. Gingrich said yesterday, "a deep commitment to teaching the American people the importance of sublimating your conflict into the legislative process so that it doesn't break out into violence, and I think she has the energy and the enthusiasm and excitement to help Dick Gephardt and me create a bipartisan program that will genuinely help the country understand the legislative process."

His office disclosed Ms. Jeffrey's appointment Thursday. She succeeds Raymond W. Smock, who was named when the job was created in 1983. Before taking that position, he had been a lecturer in history at the University of Maryland, co-edited 14 volumes of the Booker T. Washington Papers, served as president of Instructional Resources and was president of Research Materials Corp.

Although Reinhardt College, which was accredited as a four-year college last month, has an enrollment of only 964 students, the class reaches thousands more people through a satellite link that carries it to several campuses nationwide. It is also carried weekly by National Empowerment Television, the conservative cable network. The course is sponsored by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative research organization started by close associates of Mr. Gingrich.

In the lecture yesterday, he said that the state's rule barring elected officials from teaching at public colleges was "the dumbest rule I've ever seen." After the class, he said that anyone who objected to a public official teaching a course is making "a stupid argument."

"I teach a course which is an outline of my thoughts at 51 years of age, based on everything I've experienced, which is, frankly, rather more than most tenured faculty," he told reporters.

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