NEW YORK – Bruce Springsteen’s blitz of politically charged concerts failed to get John Kerry elected president, but a New York college professor still believes The Boss can teach the nation’s youth a lot about democracy.

State University of New York professor John Massaro has turned his passion for the blue-collar rocker into a political science class – a move his critics call a waste of money.

“I’ve always seen him as political,” said Massaro, 64, pointing out that Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” bashes the Reagan administration and Vietnam War.

Last year Springsteen rounded up Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band, Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks and other left-leaning entertainers for his Vote for Change tour.

“You can study politics by studying government institutions,” said Massaro, a New Jersey native just like Springsteen. “But we are really studying power.”

Despite Springsteen’s visible role in politics, some SUNY trustees and state elected leaders aren’t big fans of the course, “Walk Tall: Beauty, Meaning and Politics in the Lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.”

State Sen. Frank Padavan, a Republican, said the course, taught at SUNY Potsdam, sounds like “a waste of money.”

“I don’t know what is so unique about Bruce Springsteen,” said Padavan, a self-described opera and classical music fan. “It seems like a shallow approach to political science.”

Massaro introduced the class eight years ago, and said he was prepared for opposition.

“There had been concern by the board of trustees about frivolous courses,” he said.

But Massaro has some clout. He received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1995 and has taught a host of traditional political science courses and some other unorthodox ones, including “The Politics of Basketball.”

“Some of my colleagues said, “Here he goes again,”‘ Massaro admitted.

Students studying Springsteen listen to his songs in class, record their impressions in a journal and complete a five-page paper exploring such themes as economic inequality and alienation.

One student wrote in her journal, “I want to be Mary and jump in his car and ride down Thunder Road. Who knows what lies ahead?”

At least 100 undergraduates have taken the three-credit course, which costs $580 to $1,363. Tuition is higher for out-of-state students.

Massaro isn’t the only academic who believes Springsteen is worthy of scholarly study.

In September, Penn State University will host Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

The symposium will include sessions on Springsteen’s relevance to American folklore, critical theory and rock ‘n’ roll.

When Massaro was invited to the conference, he said, he felt “vindicated.” But his biggest dream is for Springsteen to drop in on his class.

“I’m waiting,” said Massaro, who has attended 15 Springsteen concerts. “He’s notorious for just showing up.”


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