Foreign policy course features depth and variety

By Margo Fritz ’15

Fitting a traditional semester’s worth of material into eighteen seemingly short days requires crafty professors and attentive, determined students. Luckily, Cornell is full to bursting with both.

David Yamanishi, associate professor of politics
David Yamanishi, associate professor of politics

Professor David Yamanishi, for example, is wholly devoted to Cornell’s innovative schedule and has said he could never imagine returning to a traditional schedule. He capitalizes on the unique advantages of the block plan in each of his courses in politics and international relations, such as the American Foreign Policy course he taught during Block 4.

“The foreign policy class is a good example of how the block plan encourages professors to aim for depth rather than breadth,” said Yamanishi. “A traditional survey class that covered the whole sweep of foreign policy on a rapid-fire pace would be hard to design and hard for students to absorb successfully. Better to go more deeply into a few important cases.”

This year students studied the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage crisis, Kosovo, and Iraq in 2003.

“Looking at selected cases gives us the opportunity to focus on theories — the standard tools that foreign policy experts have devised to understand and explain the decisions that we’ve made and the consequences those decisions have had,” said Yamanishi.

During the block, students were exposed to a number of unique teaching moments. Yamanishi showed three feature length films, and the class spent a morning with visiting Phi Beta Kappa scholar Lee Epstein, an expert on the Supreme Court. Students also completed a major research paper on a topic of their choosing.

“I researched why the United States supported the Shah in Iran in 1979 because the movie “Argo” piqued my interest, and I wanted to find out the real story,” said Bekah Kurtz ’15. “The paper allowed me to research something that I was actually curious about and start constructing some answers.”

Kurtz also appreciated the depth and focus that Yamanishi brought to the fast-paced course.

“This class, as all of Yamanishi’s do, pushed the limits of the block plan,” said Kurtz. “We read five books in 18 days. Although the material was quite difficult and tense, David always made class enjoyable. The environment he creates is welcoming and is a safe place to ask questions.”