Dr. Ryan Teten is a new faculty member in Political Science. He comes to UL from Northern Kentucky, where he spearheaded a novel internship for NKU students in the state Legislature. He spoke to ultoday.com recently.

Tell us about yourself.

Right now, it's about being in a good place.

I'm a new faculty member here, and have looked for a while to find that niche university that has the balance I want. After being a mascot at Clemson, and attending Vanderbilt for a doctorate, a balanced university was important to me.

There's a lot that goes into the college experience, and athletics is part of it, and academics is part of it, so it's important to find that balance. It's also important to have a president who wants to take the university where it needs to be, who has a vision of prominence for the university, and who wants it involved in the local community.  And I see a lot of promise here. It's one of the reasons I came here.

It sounds like you were specifically looking for UL.

Maybe I was, without knowing it. Everyone always asks us how we are adapting to Lafayette. We came here from Northern Kentucky, which is the second largest school in the state after UK, but the least funded.

There's a strong desire here with the students and the faculty and the administration to get rid of the "at Lafayette," and it seems like the thing to do. We used to be Southwestern Louisiana, and we fought to change it, to give the University a little more prominence, because the directional names often designate a regional college, usually something that's a step up from the JUCOs.

When I was at NKU, the president was building the school, and trying to push it to the next level. One of the big problems it faced was with the Legislature.  We were in the Cincinnati suburbs, surrounded by three of the largest counties in the state of Kentucky.  Those three counties generated 70% of Kentucky's economy.  But the Legislature wouldn't fund us, because we were the bastard step-child. NKU was an answer to "We need a school up there, because the economy's growing."  And because of the economy, it grew very fast.

And we had the stigma in the name, similar to "at Lafayette" or even "Southwestern Louisiana." It was the same thing up there, to the extent that when the Legislature was meeting to build the first student union for NKU, one of the legislators at the meeting from the Morehead State district scratched NKU from the Bill, and wrote in MSU. So that year, Morehead got two student unions for a college that had 1500 or 2000 students, because of a lack of presence from NKU in the state Legislature.

That union was a real need for us, because our students had to go across the river to the US Bank arena in Cincinnati for graduation.  Our students actually had to go to Ohio, to graduate from a Kentucky university.

So the president of NKU tried to fight that by being present, by showing up down there, and almost immediately you get a new arena for basketball, which also allowed NKU students to graduate in Kentucky.  But once he got the arena, the Legislature wanted him to shut up. Their attittude was, "Don't bother us for 5 or 10 years."

The problem with that was, NKU had around 15,000 students, and in order to be on the same level as UK or Louisville in terms of facilities, seven buildings would have to be built immediately.  When you lobby the Legislature for buildings, you often pitch it terms of square feet of class room per student.  At UK and Louisville, they had 15-20 feet/student.  NKU, if I remember, averaged 4-5 per student.   And there was no interest in addressing that.

So what I was able to do there was to start a Legislative Intern project, and I hope to do the same thing here. We sent 20 students down to Frankfort to work directly under a legislator or senator for the session.  There were certain rules, one of which was that they were expressly instructed not to talk about NKU unless asked.

Big programs like UK and Louisville also had inernships, but their interns would often show up in flip flops and t-shirts.  So we trained our kids well, we dressed them well, and  they wore NKU pins everywhere. 

We went down before the session started, showed them where the Legislative Research Commission was.  For any proposed legislation, the LRC does all of the research, looking for problems.  But someone has to carry it down there, and most legislators don't have office staff.  They're arranged in "pods," where there will be one secretary for four or five legislators.  So we were giving them free labor, and the kids were getting great experience. 

And the students are there; being there is the most important thing.  Because now, if you're a legislator considering cutting funding to NKU, you have to pass 20 NKU students every time you walked down the hall.  So we made it harder to cut things, because there was a face on the issue. And that's the big thing.

We originally provided interns to just the Legislators from our area.  But as of last year when I left, we were getting calls from southeastern and southwestern Kentucky, even from UK districts, because of the professionalism of our interns.

And you're kidding youself if you don't think that pays off when you're considering a bill.

You were the Tiger Cub when you were an undergrad at Clemson, the guy in the suit. Talk about that.

Great opportunity.  It was great getting to know the athletes. I think most students don't get to know the athletes too much, most major programs keep the athletes separated from the general student body.

That's why I love the UL tradition of the Cajun Walk, and the tradition of hand-slapping with the fans at the end of home football games-- we need to name that.

And at the end of UL football games, our anouncer thanks the visiting fans for coming, and everyone leaving the stadium turns around and applauds. I love that.  Many places, the fans are bitter. 

But that applauding the visitors kind of exemplifies the hospitality of Lafayette & UL.