Terrorist attacks

by Tom Ford

As repercussions of the Sept. 11 attacks unfold, the event continues to have a direct impact on the academic world.

Through ideas for new courses and renewed student interest in areas such as political affairs, the U.S. war on terrorism will maintain a presence in University classes next semester.

Cheryl Olsen, assistant to the political science department head, said when a major event takes place student interest in courses related to the event piques.

Based on previous indications, she said “hot topics” such as the Sept. 11 attacks should spawn increased enrollment in some courses.

“I suspect that’ll be the case with international relations classes,” she said.

Misha Liang, an adviser in the global studies department, said she hasn’t witnessed an overall increase in global studies majors, which she anticipated.

But she said there has been a definite increase in students requesting a focus on the Middle East as part of their degree programs.

Some department professors have proposed new classes to address issues related to the attacks, while many others have incorporated those issues into courses they’re already teaching, Olsen said.

John Sullivan, a University regents professor, said he formulated an idea for a freshman seminar in which students would investigate changes since Sept. 11 in areas such as U.S. foreign policy or international trade.

Sullivan said such a class would allow students to conduct their own research and draw independent conclusions.

“There’d be more of a sense of students investigating issues themselves rather than reading academic literature that offer definitive answers to questions,” he said.

Sullivan, also a political psychology teacher at Carleton College, said his students have initiated several projects in direct response to Sept. 11.

For example, he said, they surveyed local high school students about their reactions toward U.S. responses to terrorism, both domestically and internationally. His class discovered those reactions correlated with whether the high school students endorsed traditional forms of authority, he said.

“There’s an incredible amount of material for any political science class to address and all kinds of ways you can shift gears,” he said.

Michael Lerner, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor who teaches a course on the history of radicalism in the United States, said the September attacks have made issues of political violence and extremism “come alive.”

“This gives people a real stake in studying history,” he said.

Lerner said recent events have given his class a “very real reference point” to the course topics, which has translated into a tremendous incentive for the students to address Sept. 11 in their papers.