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Former Senate leader returns to campus

Dave Levy, a Boston College junior from Scottsdale, Ariz., had never heard of James "Whitey" Bulger before a reporter mentioned the gangster kingpin yesterday.

But Levy has heard of Whitey Bulger's brother William, the former state Senate president, and is impressed enough by his resume to consider taking his class in state government next spring.

"A lot of political science is analysis and critique," said Levy, 20. "It's very interesting to hear someone who's had experience in office talk about that side of things."

William Bulger, a South Boston native, led the Senate for a record 17 years before becoming president of the University of Massachusetts in 1996.

He resigned in August 2003, under pressure from Governor Mitt Romney, who questioned his loyalty to his notorious brother.

Now 70, he has stayed out of the spotlight since his controversial exit, but has lately made a quiet comeback on two area campuses, teaching politics to 15 students at Suffolk University this fall and planning to lead courses at Suffolk and BC, where he earned two degrees, in the spring.

"I think the controversy won't be important," said Dennis Hale, an associate professor at BC who found Bulger "lively and quick" when they discussed his "Political Leadership" course.

"What will be important is for students to talk to him, hear from him, and get a sense of what it's like in the trenches," Hale said.

At Suffolk, his course called "The Legislature and Legislators" runs 2 hours per session and will be offered again in the spring.

In it, Bulger teaches modern politics in the context of classical philosophy, government department chairman John Berg said.

The reading list for the course includes Aristotle and Plutarch.

Bulger could not be reached yesterday, but said last winter that he was working on a memoir and wanted to teach, in part because "there's a need for a public that understands democracy . . . if it's going to work."

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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