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Just another day for Obama's favorite professor

The president praised Occidental College's Roger Boesche for engaging his famous former student in political science. But there's no time to linger. Nietzsche won't wait.

January 29, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Roger Boesche's class on European political thought meets three days a week this semester, and the Occidental College professor says Friday's session was unremarkable.

His students apparently were unaware that the day before, their teacher had received the ultimate endorsement: The president of the United States singled out a Boesche class as his favorite college course.

The question was one of a handful of questions chosen from hundreds of thousands submitted for a live YouTube interview session with President Obama on Thursday, part of the White House's multifaceted social media campaign following the State of the Union address.

"I had a wonderful political science class," Obama said, naming Boesche as the professor. "It sparked my general interest in politics. And he still teaches there and was just a wonderful, wonderful professor."

Boesche, 63, learned of Obama's comments from a few congratulatory e-mails. But he's not sure which of his classes Obama most enjoyed.

As a freshman in 1979, Obama enrolled in the young professor's introductory course on American political thought. Two years later, Obama took European political thought, covering 19th century philosopher Nietzsche to the present.

"I'm certainly glad that he got challenged by my course," Boesche said. "For the president of the United States to say to the public … that you are 'a wonderful, wonderful professor,' that's pretty cool."

On the Los Angeles campus, Boesche is known as the "guy who taught Obama," but the president does not come up much in his classes.

"We're more likely to talk about Machiavelli, maybe ask what could Obama learn from Machiavelli, than we are to talk about him," Boesche said.

But Boesche remembers teaching Obama, recalling that it was at Occidental that the president participated in one of his first political rallies, for the campus' movement to divest in South Africa.

He followed Obama's subsequent career in politics, contacting him after he won the Illinois Democratic Senate primary in 2004, and e-mailing with him often in the years that followed.

After Obama won the presidency, Boesche arranged a White House reunion. But when he entered the Oval Office in August 2009, his former pupil was waiting with a complaint.

"Professor Boesche taught me everything I know about politics," he recalls the president saying, "But he gave me a B."

Asked today to grade Obama's performance as president, Boesche was reluctant to be overly critical. He said he was especially proud of Obama's recent speech after the shootings in Tucson.

"I don't think I want to give him another grade," he said — before settling on an A.

"But there's always room for improvement."

michael.memoli@tribune.com

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