Featured Faculty: Dr. Benjamin Epstein
Every semester, a wave of new faces encounteers Yeshiva University’s campus. Whether they are first-year students fresh off their term in Israel, transfer students, or visiting assistant professors, each individual must adjust to this campus’s unique setting. For Dr. Benjamin Epstein, a visiting assistant professor in the Political Science Department at both the Beren and Wilf Campuses, the move was a vast change from his previous employment.
Before coming to YU, Dr. Epstein taught at both high school and collegiate levels. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a concentration in education and a minor in history, he began his career in San Diego where he taught high school U.S history and political science, while, on the side, coaching the varsity basketball team to the state championship. Afterward, he moved to Brooklyn, where he taught U.S history while earning his Master’s degree in American politics and political theory. After realizing that he wanted to teach college students, he received his PhD in political science from Queens College.
While earning his PhD, Dr. Epstein originally focused his research on the impact of racial and ethnic political movements on American politics, the basis for a course that will be offered this coming semester. However, he eventually shifted his area of study to American political development, the theory of how political culture, ideology, and governing structures shape the development of political conflict and public policy.
Still, Dr. Epstein furtherspecified his study to political communication and how the internet, which birthed social media behemoths such as Facebook and Twitter, revolutionized modern politics, giving a voice to the underrepresented populace. He explains that even though the Internet “is centralizing the [political] process, it is a long way from a utopian, full democratic system,” and he “is excited to continue researching how underrepresented groups use new technology to increase their voice.” Currently, he is in the process of converting his research into a book.
Although YU is an academic environment totally different from that which Dr. Epstein has been associated with in the past, he expresses excitement “in navigating this new system,” calling it “a learning process.” One striking difference that he finds at YU, besides the obvious religious setting, is the distribution of political affiliation among students. He says that he has been “teaching in New York City and teaching young people and Jews, and all of those things would lean liberal or democratic, but it is interesting that there is a large conservative representation in the classroom…there is more of a balance” in the classroom compared to his previous teaching positions.
Though Dr. Epstein’s credentials are impressive, what distinguishes him is his passion for teaching, his love of politics, and his “proud Midwestern” upbringing. He expressly states, “I don’t want to be a leader in the classroom more than I have to.” He encourages students to take an active role in class as well as in politics, which he says is what makes politics “relevant and interesting.” When asked if he had any thoughts of going to Washington, the professor said he had no intention of leaving, expressing that he is a teacher at heart. Yet when asked if he had supported a presidential candidate, Dr. Epstein answers, “yes,” but elects to hold his political leaning close to the vest, like a true politician.