Classes Change Focus after Sept. 11

GW professors are changing the focus of their classes to address the historical, economic and social impacts of the Sept. 11 attacks and war on terrorism.

While the world watches the District, University policy makers are also considering how to integrate real-world events into coursework.

Many professors are incorporating the causes and effects of the conflict in a wide array of classes, including history, political science, international affairs and business.

Classes like Introduction to Comparative Politics, Comparative Politics of the Middle East, Islamic Humanities and International Financial Environment are all incorporating issues surrounding the terrorist attacks.

“I think that when things get very difficult it is time to ask difficult questions. It will push us all to a better understanding,” said Scheherazade Rehman, an international business professor.

Rehman said it is important for students to “process” what happened on Sept.11, which is why she began discussing the attacks in her International Financial Environment classes.

“I think burying your head in the sand is a bad idea,” she said. “It has changed the way we view financial markets, and it would be ridiculous not to talk about it.”

Rehman said she has many international students in her class and that diversity adds to discussion.

“We got down and dirty, not only discussing the financial concerns but the social and political concerns,” Rehman said.

She said she is trying to schedule a summer class with retired International Monetary Fund personnel that would address how financial markets have changed since Sept. 11.

Other professors have followed suit by using Sept. 11 as an example when lecturing on topics such as international politics and Middle Eastern history.

“In light of Sept. 11, I have tried in just about all lectures to relate some of the concepts or countries I am discussing to the current situation,” said political science professor Michael Sodaro.

When he spoke of the French government in class, Sodaro said, he mentioned how the magistrate has broader power that allows them to do things like detain potential terrorists and wiretap other suspects.

Sodaro is also updating his textbook, Comparative Politics: A Global Introduction, on the Web to include the crisis and ramifications.

Although he said he speaks about Sept. 11 when it is appropriate, Sodaro said he has not turned a course as broad as introduction to political science “on its head” because of the terrorist attacks.

Dalia Kaye, an assistant professor of international affairs and political science, said Sept. 11 and the aftermath comes up every week in her Middle Eastern politics class and frequently in her New Media in the Middle East class.

“There are a lot of topics on my syllabus that Sept. 11 ties into, and I am using it as a concrete example for more general issues” coalition building and the role nationalism plays in the Middle East, Kaye said.

Kaye predicts an increased interest in courses that involve international security and the Middle East. She also said she believes there will be a restructuring of some international affairs courses to include Sept. 11 as a topic.

Some professors are purposely avoiding Sept. 11 in class to stick to syllabi.

Nathan Brown, a professor teaching a class on comparative Middle Eastern politics, said he doesn’t like teaching what is in the headlines, although the attacks have come up in class.

“I made a deliberate decision in the beginning not to teach current events,” Brown said. “We talk about over 1,300 years of Islamic political history. To make it seem like 1,300 years culminates in one moment is definitely a mistake.”

Brown said he thinks professors will “tinker with their syllabus” but not deal with the Sept.11 attacks as a specific class.

Leo Ribuffo, a history professor, said he plans to talk about Sept. 11 when it is relevant in the later stages of his introduction to American history class.

Although Ribuffo mentions Sept. 11 in some lectures, he thinks classes focusing explicitly on Sept. 11 should not be introduced.

“In 1970, if you said you were studying Afghanistan people would say you should be studying Vietnam. Now we are seeing studying Afghanistan might have been a good idea,” Ribuffo said. “Scholars shouldn’t follow fads.”

But others in the University do not necessarily agree. Robert Chernak, vice president of Student Academic and Support Services, said GW officials will examine what it means to get a “GW education” and change coursework accordingly. That could include a mandatory class on terrorism.

“I think you’re starting to see a lot of people who are applying to GW because we have a lot of programs that are synergistic with what’s going on in the world,” Chernak said.

He continued, “Why do we say, ‘oh gee, it is more important to have English 10 or English 11, or something else, rather than a course on terrorism?'”

-Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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