With the nation on the verge of war against Iraq, many professors are using the current situation as a live case study for history, political science and international relations classes.
Professors said they have used debates over action in Iraq as a way for students to analyze a situation that has not yet been explained in textbooks. Some discussed the philosophy behind President George W. Bush’s policies about sovereignty in dealing with Iraq, while others used the current situation as a chance to evaluate the United Nations and other international organizations.
Others said they simply could not overlook such a prominent issue.
“Iraq seems to be a major topic today and whenever the United States is about to go to war and there’s a debate going on, it’s a major issue,” said professor Charles Hill, diplomat-in-residence. “In a course that deals with international issues it would be strange not to pay attention to things going on around you.”
Hill has devoted the beginning of his “International Ideas and Institutions” class for the past several weeks to a discussion of issues surrounding Iraq. Students have been assigned to write a paper analyzing the situation using the methods of Thucydides.
Yale President Richard Levin said discussion of current events such as a potential war with Iraq is an essential part of Yale.
“I’ve seen several lectures publicized about it. That’s what happens spontaneously,” Levin said. “The University’s responsibility is to debate and discuss things as thoroughly as possible.”
Professors Keith Darden and Oona Hathaway, who co-teach “Ideas, Culture, and Law in International Politics,” said they have talked about Bush’s statements on Iraq as an example of the erosion of international norms.
“We’re living at kind of an interesting time where you have a shift away from the strict adherence to the norm of sovereignty,” said Darden. “The Bush administration says it’s okay to violate sovereignty in order to sort of fight terrorism or fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This is new and interesting stuff.”
Hathaway said in an e-mail that she thought it was useful to use Iraq as a modern-day example of some of the issues that come up in class.
“We have discussed the United States’ forbearance in attacking Iraq as possible evidence that international norms do have an effect on state behavior,” Hathaway said in the e-mail. “It is important, even in a class that focuses primarily on theory, to discuss how what we learn in the classroom may help us understand and explain — and perhaps change — what happens in the world.”
James Sutterlin said his class, “The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Security,” has discussed Bush’s speech at the United Nations in terms of multilateralism.
In William Odom’s class “American National Security Policy,” students wrote short papers explaining concepts from Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War.” Odom gave students the option of writing about the U.S. and Iraq.
“I don’t take a position either way but let students use Clausewitz to sort out what they see as clear ways to think aboaut and evaluate the situation,” Odom said in an e-mail. “Many of them turned in very insightful papers, identifying several key complexities and gambles that the Bush administration faces in this case.”
Other professors who did not address issues related to Iraq in their classes said they hoped students could apply class lessons to analyze the situation for themselves.
Jennifer Bair said she hopes students in her “Globalization: A Critical Introduction” class will apply the analysis skills learned in class to make connections to outside issues.
“My hope is that students are actually making connections between that particular issue and the broader set of issues,” Bair said. “Certainly if we go to war with Iraq it’s something we’re going to want to address very directly.”
Amy Arnsten does not teach a class on politics or current events but wanted to give students information about them anyway. She sent an e-mail to students in her “Brain and Thought” class, telling them they could contact their senators about the issue at www.congress.org.
Arnsten said she didn’t think it was right for a faculty member to impose views on others, but wanted to give students information.
“I had heard I couple of students being worried about Iraq and yet they hadn’t known that they could have a choice about it,” she said. “I wanted them to have the mechanics.”
Students said they appreciated professors’ efforts to discuss the situation in class.
“When a professor goes out on a limb and gives his opinion to a class, whether or not students agree with him, he’s provoking discussion among students, and student discussion is one of the best things that comes out of this University,” said Emily Primps ’03, a political science major.
Andrew Klaber ’03, who is in Hill’s “International Ideas and Institutions” class, said the course helped him think through the situation.
“I found talking about Iraq in class extremely helpful in terms of being able to formulate my own opinion on the action the U.S. and the United Nations should take,” said Klaber, an ethics, politics and economics major. “It’s really boosted my understanding of these complex issues.”