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Presidential Elections, Global Justice, National Security and Middle East Conflict: Political Science at Yeshiva University

As the 2012 presidential elections heat up, Yeshiva University’s political science courses are offering students an inside look at the domestic and international issues dominating today’s news cycle.

According to Dr. Joseph Luders, the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair of Political Science at YU, the spring semester is the most heavily enrolled in the department’s history. “These courses are academically demanding, topically relevant,  and engaging because they resonate with student concerns,” he explained. “Students are looking for courses that tackle real-world issues.”

For example, in Dr. James Bourke’s Global Justice and Human Rights class at Stern College for Women, students will immerse themselves in raging debates about hunger, poverty, economic development, gender inequality, human trafficking, lack of education and environmental degradation. They’ll ask what Bourke considers to be the central question posed to ethical citizens of first world countries: Are we obligated to help?

“In-depth discussion of theoretical perspectives and moral philosophy will help students think about these issues in terms of the duties and responsibilities they have as human beings, global citizens and citizens of their own countries, as well as how to relate broad issues of global inequality to their identities in personal and social settings,” said Bourke. Because of the course’s emphasis on women’s rights, it will also count towards a minor in women’s studies.

Dr. Charles Freilich, a former Israel national security adviser, will bring his unique professional experience to the Stern course Arab-Israeli Conflict. That class will examine beleaguered peace negotiations from a policy-making standpoint, putting students in the shoes of real-world leaders as they seek to understand the constraints, demands and positions of key players in the Middle East, both historically and today.

“Having worked with policymakers and the Israeli government for over 20 years, I can bring my understanding of how these things work to the classroom,” said Freilich. “We’re not going to focus on what we think is right so much as what the actual leaders can do given their personal preferences and strategic and political constraints.”

Women and the Law, a new Honors course investigating legal theory and the contemporary American legal system from a feminist perspective, will be taught by Dr. Adina Levine, a Stern and Harvard Law School graduate. “We’ll be looking at the kinds of issues that are especially relevant at a women’s college, like whether separate sex education is constitutional or if it reinforces stereotypes and glass ceilings, and hear the law’s current perspective on domestic violence, discrimination, employment and pregnancy,” said Levine. Her advice to students: “Don’t take what the media tells you or the current state of law, which is constantly changing, for granted. It’s only because of critical thinking that the law changes at all—the status quo is not necessarily the right, best or correct way to be.”

At Yeshiva College, Dr. Ariel Malka’s Psychology of Mass Opinion course offers students an eye-opening glimpse into the psychological processes and characteristics that shape public opinion about political issues, from policy preferences and presidential approval ratings to perceptions of how the economy is doing. Students will study the way genetic makeup, personality, media and socialization influence political views, and will also overview research on political judgment and decision-making processes. A current events component will focus on opinion and election polling surrounding the primaries and the lead-up to the general election.

“There’s this idea of a culture war in much of the rhetoric surrounding American politics, that Americans are bitterly divided on a wide set of hot-button issues, the stereotype of religious gun-toting rednecks versus secular latte-sipping liberal elitists, but it’s more complicated than that,” said Malka. “Understanding this complexity will give students a better sense of how opinions are actually structured in the American electorate and the nature of the current American electoral coalitions.”

Also at Yeshiva College, noted national security policy expert Dr. Evan Resnick will lead a course called Power Threats and National Security. Students will examine grand strategy in the United States throughout the 20th century, focusing especially on the idea of containment during the Cold War, as well as stances taken by world powers throughout history, from the Roman Empire to Renaissance-age Spain and England. They will also study emerging national security strategies proposed by scholars and analysts in the wake of 9/11.

“This is an era where there’s a lot of uncertainty about American grand strategy,” said Resnick. “We’re seeing the beginnings of a serious debate we really haven’t had since the end of the Second World War and these decisions are no longer the preserve of the academic think tanks. These are bread-and-butter issues now.”

Talya Seidman, a political science major at Stern, will be taking Women and Law and either Arab-Israeli Conflict or Dr. Ben Neinass’ Politics of Memory in the spring. “I think it’s important to study these topics today because we live in a time of immediate global connection and social protest,” she said. “The tools to know what’s going on all over the country and world are literally at our fingertips. We, as college-educated, young adults should be able to comprehend the significance of these important current events.”