In his first term, Pres­i­dent Obama has faced an array of chal­lenges — from high unem­ploy­ment and his con­tro­ver­sial health care bill, to for­eign policy issues involving coun­tries such as China and Egypt. Crit­ical topics such as these were the crux of an engaging con­fer­ence at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Feb. 10 assessing Obama’s first two years in office, and what’s in store for the road ahead.

The con­fer­ence, “The Obama Pres­i­dency at Midterm: Poli­cies, Pol­i­tics and Promise,” was spon­sored and orga­nized by polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor William Crotty, holder of the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life, with the help of Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Polit­ical Sci­ence. The event attracted polit­ical sci­ence experts from insti­tu­tions across New Eng­land who offered a rich exchange of view­points to a packed Raytheon Audi­to­rium throughout the day.

The pre­sen­ters really went beyond simply what’s hap­pening at this moment and instead put it into a much broader con­text,” Crotty said. He also hailed the depth of the ques­tions from stu­dents in the audi­ence — par­tic­u­larly on envi­ron­mental policy affecting job cre­ation, per­cep­tions of race and pol­i­tics, and America’s posi­tion on the rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt.

In wel­coming remarks, Mary Loef­fel­holz, vice provost for aca­d­emic affairs, said the devel­op­ments taking place in the United States and abroad under­score the university’s fun­da­mental approach to research and learning. She pointed to Northeastern’s sig­na­ture edu­ca­tion model that pro­motes a global vision, real-​​world expe­ri­ence for stu­dents, and inno­v­a­tive, use-​​inspired research.

Driven by Pres­i­dent Aoun’s lead­er­ship, North­eastern today is a uni­ver­sity increas­ingly of and for the world,” Loef­fel­holz said. “Our research efforts focus on addressing today’s national imper­a­tives and tomorrow’s global chal­lenges across the university’s three broad themes: health, secu­rity, and sustainability.”

North­eastern polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor William Mayer mod­er­ated the conference’s morning panel, while pro­fessor Robert Gilbert presided over the after­noon ses­sion. In the morning ses­sion, pan­elists cov­ered for­eign policy, health care and Pres­i­dent Obama’s envi­ron­mental poli­cies. In the after­noon, the dis­cus­sion shifted to the economy, as well as voting trends among whites and blacks.

Dean Robinson, a polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor at the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts Amherst, exam­ined the president’s health-​​care leg­is­la­tion, pre­dicting that despite its efforts, the law likely will fall short of elim­i­nating racial and ethnic health disparities.

Later, John Berg, a polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor at Suf­folk Uni­ver­sity, tackled Obama’s record on the envi­ron­ment. While citing lesser accom­plish­ments such as set­ting fishing limits to con­serve marine resources, Berg noted that the pres­i­dent hasn’t made a strong enough argu­ment to the Amer­ican people regarding cli­mate change and that major changes are needed in our energy policy.

Thomas Fer­guson, a polit­ical sci­en­tist at Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts Boston, noted the lack of serious gov­ern­ment policy to tackle unem­ploy­ment and the housing market, adding that he’s not con­vinced these areas will have dra­mat­i­cally rebounded by the 2012 election.

Despite the gen­er­ally down­beat assess­ment, Arthur Paulson, a polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor at Southern Con­necticut State Uni­ver­sity, said Democ­rats would have no choice but to sup­port Obama in 2012, because no strong chal­lenger is emerging.