Letter to Congress Assignment
Abstract– The homework assignment is to write a letter to your two United States
Senators and your congressional district Representative, about an ocean conservation
issue or about the more general topic of global warming. Use the Congressional District
for which you are currently registered to vote. Alternatively (or in addition) you can write
to the President of the United States or other prominent leader (e.g. Cornell’s President
Garrett). If you are an international student, you have the choice of either writing your
own government officials or else you can use the Congressional District for Ithaca to
choose the two US Senators and Representative. This homework assignment is worth 50
points toward your final class grade.
Purpose of the Assignment– Some of you probably chose this class because you have a
goal of becoming an oceanographer. Others chose this class only because it fulfills a
distribution requirement for graduation. Most of you, however, probably chose this class
because you have a curiosity and affection for the ocean. In all cases, it might not be
clear to you how the knowledge you gain in this class can be put to good practical use.
This letter writing assignment is intended to give you a sense of purpose for learning the
class material by showing you how your newfound knowledge of the ocean can bring
power to your voice when expressing your opinion on matters concerning the ocean.
The knowledge you gain in this introductory oceanography class might seem small in
comparison to that of a professor of oceanography, but it will far exceed the knowledge
of the average person in this country! Because you will have much more knowledge
about the ocean than the average person, your opinion on ocean-related topics will be
valuable and certainly worthy of being heard by your Congressional Representatives.
A healthy democracy is derived from an informed citizenry that takes the time to learn
about an issue and then voices its opinion on how things should best be done regarding
the issue. I hope very much that through this letter writing assignment you will come to
see that your oceanographic knowledge can, and should, be put to good practical use. I
also hope, in a more general sense, that after completing this assignment you will be
inspired to continue writing your congressional representatives in the future about any
variety of issues you care deeply about.
I personally see this letter writing assignment as a win-win-win situation for all involved.
You win by being shown how your knowledge empowers you. I win by being inspired
when reading your letters and this encourages me to work harder to make my lectures
more understandable and more persuasive. Finally, perhaps the members of Congress
will actually listen to your letters and be inspired themselves to make some real changes
in how this country (or another nation) deals with human impacts to the ocean.
Details– This is not meant to be a regular term paper that you might have done in the past
where you simply recite accurate ocean facts. The letter should express your very
personal views/opinions on the current (and projected) health of the ocean or on the more
general topic of global climate change. You are very strongly encouraged to present your
own personal views. This might mean that you advocate for increased protection of the
ocean, but it could equally mean that you advocate for a decrease in government
regulations and an increase in the extraction of ocean resources to increase jobs and
stimulate economic growth.
You will not be graded on the particular stance you take in the letter. You will be graded
mainly on the letter’s sincerity, and the persuasiveness of the arguments used to support
your position. I strongly encourage you to make the letter as personal as possible by
injecting past personal experiences with the ocean and/or presenting personal
opinions/feelings about ocean conservation matters or matters of global warming.
“This assignment is really meant to be a wide-open invitation for you to freely voice
your mind/opinion. I am hoping it will give you a chance to express some of your
deepest-held feelings about where you think the world is heading. Pretty much
anything you say is acceptable as long as it is said with sincerity and conviction…”
Letter Length – You will not be graded on the length of the letter, but about 2 full pages
(single spaced) will probably be required (and strongly recommended!) to make a wellfounded
argument, but feel free to make it as long as needed.
Cover Page – For the purpose of turning in the assignment, please include a Cover Page
that has 1) Your name and NetID at the top of the page, 2) the names and mailing
addresses of the two Senators and the Representative for your State and Congressional
District. The body of the letter that is turned in for grading can be addressed to any one of
the Senators or the Representative. The letter(s) you send off later in the mail can be
duplicated and the salutation for your Senators and Representative can be added to the
separate copies of the letter.
Turning in the Letter Writing Assignment– Copies of the letter should be submitted in
both 1) hardcopy form during class AND 2) uploaded in electronic form to the
Blackboard class site. The hardcopy can be submitted in class up to and including the
last lecture of the semester (Friday, December 4). The electronic version should be
upload on the same day that the hardcopy is turned in. No emailed letters will be
Late Letters will be accepted with a 2-point penalty assessed for each day after the last
lecture day (this also includes lost points for Saturday and Sunday). Note that Snee Hall
is locked after 4pm on Friday and does not reopen until 7am on Monday. If the late letter
is emailed an additional 2-point penalty will be assessed. No letter will be accepted after
4:00 PM on Friday, December 11. Turn in late letters to the instructor’s departmental
mailbox (Bruce Monger, Snee Hall, Mail Room #2120).
Mailing Your Letters to Congress – It is your own choice to place copies of your letter
into properly addressed envelopes and then mailing them out to your representatives. My
suggestion for helping you decide if you should send your letter off is to ask yourself if
you feel strongly about what you wrote. If you feel strongly about what you wrote, then I
think you should definitely send it! If you do not feel strongly about what you wrote,
then I think you should probably not send it.
Letter to Congress Assignment