New Courses: “The Contemporary Middle East” and “Atomic Weapons and Power”

I’m presently working on two new courses that have me excited.

One is a course to take students to the Middle East for three weeks during my College’s May term. We’re planning for our first trip to be in 2012, and my co-teacher will be a colleague who’s a Syrian native. We plan to take students to Lebanon, Syria and the UAE. I made great contacts with Lebanese American University in Beirut last fall, and they’re excited about working with us. I made good contacts with The American University in Dubai which is cordially willing to work with us. In Syria, we don’t have an academic sponsor, but we’ll be able to get the students fairly immersed for a few days, and the U.S. Embassy told me they’d be very happy to meet with our students. (I don’t know how easy it normally is for Americans traveling abroad to meet with embassy officials, but I contacted the U.S. Embassy in Damascus well ahead of my travel, and perhaps because of the nature of my interests, they were very willing to meet with me, and gave me plenty of time.)

At present this course has been approved by our curriculum committee (no great challenge, given that I am on it, our study abroad director is on it, the chair is one of my best friends on campus, and together the three of us constitute 50% of the committee; but in fact it was unanimous), and now it only awaits approval by our faculty in Monday’s meeting (99% of the time, that’s a simple rubber stamp). I have faculty expressing their desire to go, as well as students. Of course nobody’s been asked to pony up the $5-6000 + plane ticket (about $1500) for the course. We’ll see how that goes next year.

The second course is an experimental one proposed by a colleague in our chemistry department–a course team taught by him, me, and a history professor called Atomic Weapons and Power, that looks at the science, history, and politics of nuclear weapons, energy, and medicine. As an experimental course it doesn’t require anybody’s approval, but the history prof and I need to get approval from the Academic Dean for a course overload. We’re drafting our proposal for that, and I think we’ll be successful.* This will be only a two credit course (my normal courses are four credits), and the chem prof and I hope to use this as a developmental step toward the Science Policy class we want to create and co-teach.

This is the aspect of being a prof that’s fun as all get out. I basically have the freedom to go out and study whatever interests me, and I can actually teach almost any thing I want on an experimental basis. I’ve done Art and Politics that way, and keep pondering a course on libertarian thought, or one that focuses specifically on what I see as the dangerous expansion of executive power in the U.S. And another history prof and I have casually discussed developing a course on the functioning of the intelligence agencies. I’ll never get around to doing all the courses I dream up (Globalization, or International Political Economy, a course specifically on the national budget, environmental law, the Cold War in Film, etc., etc.) but that doesn’t bother me at all. I fully expect to not get bored (except with my American Government class, which I teach each term), because I’ll always be planning something new that may or may not ever happen.

Two years ago I co-created a course that takes students to Nicaragua over Christmas break for a Medical Service Learning**trip. It was designed as a 1 credit class that could be taught by faculty from a multitude of departments, so we could institutionalize it without any department having to sacrifice another course to make room for it. That’s a course overload our Dean has been delighted to approve. So far two other faculty have gone on the trip, and I haven’t yet, but I will probably be the one who goes this year. Each time our College President mentions it, he praises our Health Studies Institute Director and never mentions me–he apparently has no idea that it was my idea and planning that brought her vague desire into fulfillment (not to criticize her–she’s fantastic, but was brand new at the time and had no idea yet how to make things happen at our College). It bugs me not to get credit for it. But it delights me to hear students talking about how it changed their lives and to see their faces literally glow as they talk about their experiences in these remote villages, where they assist doctors with people who may have only that one opportunity in the whole year to go to a doctor.

It’s not too bad a career, really.

*Here’s where being a political scientist helps me. Unlike most faculty, I understand that the fact of limited budgets, and the Dean’s responsibility for doling it out, means we have to pitch a proposal that is top notch, not just something thrown together in ten minutes’ time, but something that is thought about carefully, discussed, carefully written, reviewed, revised, and only presented when it’s good enough that I’m 95% certain it will be approved. It’s not just us political scientists who get that, but it’s a distinct minority of faculty. Others who get it tend to be, unsurprisingly, economics and business faculty. The humanities people mostly don’t get it, and tend to think that the inherent merits of their idea should be recognized and approved, regardless of the quality of the presentation. I know some exceptionally intelligent people who are just tremendously benighted when it comes to such matters.

**Re: Service Learning. I hate that jargony phrase, and I honestly don’t give a shit about the service part. But it’s an accurate description and one that makes a certain subset of academics and accreditors get a warm moist feeling between their legs. So except among friends, I try to say it with a straight face. And maybe there’s actually something to the concept, because the trip really does change the students in a number of ways, all positive.


About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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One Response to New Courses: “The Contemporary Middle East” and “Atomic Weapons and Power”

  1. BSK says:

    Liberal academic bias my ass! :-p

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