By: Avi Strauss | News  | 

Interim YC Political Science Chair Discredits Course For Being “too pro-Israel” and Lacking Academic Rigor

Ambassador Danny Ayalon’s course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be counted towards a political science degree next semester. According to a petition circulating amongst Yeshiva College political science students, interim chair of the political science department Dr. Joseph Luders cited the course being “too pro-Israel” and “too politically-biased” when explaining its new status.

Dr. Luders also cited the supposed lack of academic rigor in Ayalon’s past courses as part of the reason for the decision, although he declined to elaborate on the “precise details” in print.

Ayalon served as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2002-2006, served in the Israeli Knesset, and is frequently a contributor to the Jerusalem Post and the Wall Street Journal.

This marks the first time since Ambassador Ayalon started teaching at YU in 2014 that his course will not count towards the political science major.

According to the online course listings, Ayalon’s course at Stern on the same topic will also not be counted towards their political science major.

The course itself, entitled “Topics: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” will be worth just two credits, as Ambassador Ayalon can only teach through March. He taught courses worth two credits in Spring 2015 and Spring 2016 that counted towards Stern political science major requirements.

“On two occasions the Ambassador did not have a co-teacher and the abbreviated format [the Ambassador departed in March] earned two credits,” said Dean Karen Bacon, The Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Nevertheless, we allowed the course to count towards a three credit major requirement by making an exception… as the Ambassador will not have a co-teacher [in Spring 2018], the course will be a two credit elective.”  

Dean Bacon did not address why the upcoming course will not count towards a political science major.

According to Dr. Luders, “there were reports from some students in this class at Stern that they felt the instructor had fostered the impression that their grades might be influenced by how pro-Israel they appeared to be” and that “competing perspectives” were “treated in a dismissive fashion.”

Although Dr. Luders did not deny making the alleged comments, he insisted “being ‘pro-Israel’ is....not the problem,” rather it was the course's lack of academic rigor. Further, he said “instructors should not foster the impression that a student can guarantee herself an A by doing little more than repeating a political perspective that is congenial to the instructor.”

Dr. Ruth Bevan, the recently retired and longtime chair of the Yeshiva College Political Science department, claimed that it is “illogical” that such a course should not be counted towards the political science major.

“Political Science departments across the country run courses conducted by national and international politicians and bureaucrats,” she explained. “Their importance lies, not in their ‘neutrality,’ but in their decidedly political experience and vantage point. They give students an ‘inside’ view of the political world.”

She added, “Is this not what political science students should come to know? Should we now say Senators should not teach in the Political Science Department of Yeshiva College?”

“It would seem that we underrate the ‘smarts’ of our students to grasp a ‘political perspective’ when they hear it. And we do them a disservice by not exposing them to this ‘real world.’  The real story here, it seems to me, boils down to the simple fact that the Department was unable to find an academic who would co-teach the course, as has been done in the past. The students should not be made to pay for this.”

Many students expect a degree of political bias when registering for political science courses. Some say Dr. Luder’s teaches his own courses in a politically biased fashion.

“There is no question he [Luders] presents information in a completely slanted way,” said a current student in one Dr. Luders courses on the Beren campus, who wished to remain anonymous. She also said Luders “doesn’t acknowledge any conservative opinion as valid.” When asked if she feels her grades might suffer if she doesn’t agree with Dr. Luders’ perspectives, the student said “yeah, absolutely.”

Another current student remarked that Dr. Luders spends time in his Intro to American Politics course “lecturing his opinions” and “assigning articles that he likes” to a class that does not yet have “the background to distinguish between his opinion and objective theories.”

When asked about whether or not his classes are biased, Dr. Luders stated “students do not earn A's in my classes by agreeing with me about anything. Instead, they earn A's based on hard work and a serious engagement with arguments and evidence.”

The students’ petition also states that Dr. Luders claimed the course is only worth two credits and that the political science department does not count credit from such courses.

Bevan confirmed to The Commentator that there is no rule disallowing two-credit courses from counting towards the political science major and wondered why it is this course is now under new scrutiny by the current department, disallowing its credit to be used for political science majors and minors.

Yeshiva College political science majors are required to complete 33 credits within the major to graduate with a political science degree.

Since Ambassador Ayalon started teaching at YU, he has taught eight courses on topics like Israeli Statecraft and U.S.-Israeli relations. Four have been at Yeshiva College and four at Stern College for Women.  Dr. Luders has been the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair of the Political Science department at Stern since Ayalon began teaching.

Luders got his Ph.D from the New School for Social Research and his research interests include American racial politics, social movements, civil rights politics and policy, and American political development. He’s published a book entitled The Civil Rights Movement and the Logic of Social Change (Cambridge University Press 2010).