I absolutely loved Professor Kasara's Introduction to Comparative Politics Class. I have absolutely no idea why all of the other reviews were so negative toward her teaching of this class. She is extremely informed about the topic, her lectures are engaging and interesting, and I left the class with a much stronger understanding of the subject. She has very informative slides and posts them after every class, so you never have to worry about missing any core information. The workload was very manageable and exactly what I would expect for an Intro Poli-Sci class. The tests were not any more challenging than the class would merit. The TAs gave very informative feedback on tests and were more than happy to talk through any questions you had about the class. The tests all cover material that was extensively covered in the lecture. There is only one paper and it is over a very basic, core principle of the class. Professor Kasara was very generous with grades and even changed her entire grading scale when my class was doing worse than her previous classes had done in order to help improve our grades. I would highly highly recommend this class for everyone who is interested in the field of Political Science. I cannot wait to take more classes with Professor Kasara in the future.
Literally the worst class I have ever taken in all my years at Columbia. Avoid this class like the mf PLAGUE. She always arrives late to class but then holds the class over, gives exams that are SO DIFFICULT (which she then comments on how it wasn't her intention to make it that difficult), and messed up the curving in our class. By the time she fixed the curves, most people's grades moved to a whole letter grade. TERRIBLE TERRIBLE DO NOT TAKE
WORST COLUMBIA PROFESSOR Please do not take this class. Professor Kasara is one of the worst professors I have ever been taught by at Columbia. PLEASE wait for any other professor to teach this class. I don't even know where to start but frankly, the class was disorganized and a shambles. Professor Kasara speaks in riddles at the speed of lightning to the point where you cannot take in anything in the lectures. Her slides are ridiculously long but she never explains anything. She turns up to lectures 15-20 minutes late and then questions why we are behind in the syllabus??? The TAs are ridiculously harsh graders and are unhelpful and unresponsive. Only take this class if you class if you want your GPA to plummet.
Terrible professor. Talks way too fast, realized her exams were insane so curved the class at the end of the semester, and overall the class was just not enjoyable. She is sweet and laughs at nearly every sentence, but the cons definitely outweigh the pros. DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS
This is the class that convinced me to major in comparative politics. I've heard such horrible things about many intro classes, but Huber was approachable, organized, and engaging. While most of his classes are lectures, he helpfully puts together summaries and study guides at the end which are very helpful on the three exams (no final). He is a game theorist, and I appreciated learning a lot about the theory. Additionally, while it was a large lecture, he made it as interactive as possible by having simulations a couple of times in class. While Huber doesn't summarize the readings in class and they do appear on the exams, my TA, Egor Lazarev, was extremely helpful in understanding them. The final paper (jn place of an exam) was short, fun, and easy. Your grade depends on doing the readings and understanding the information that appears on the three exams. I remember there being a relatively low A-range (around 25%?) the year I took his class. Still, you will learn a lot and enjoy the class.
I don't know why Prof. Kasara's reviews are so bad-- her class was very enjoyable. The reviews that are bashing her probably didn't get the grade they wanted. She is a very nice and bubbly person - it's rare to come across a professor like that. I went to one of her office hours and she definitely has a kind and bright personality. The readings weren't dense at all, and as long as you kept up with the textbook and the slides, you'll do fine. Lectures are a must to go, lots of important material on there. She definitely sticks to the material. A lot of theories covered, but also a lot of case studies as well. You should definitely try to find a good TA for this class, because they'll help you a lot. Make sure to go to the TA review sessions, and pay attention in discussion section. This class wasn't hard at all, just keep up with the lectures and the readings and you'll be more than fine. The final essay prompt was open ended. And the tests were pretty manageable to study towards. I would recommend taking this class.
I really don't know why the reviews of Professor Kasara are so bad. She's one of the better professors I've had at this school - down to earth, an effective communicator, and actually sees her students as intelligent human beings. Based on the frequency of the phrase "speaking in cursive" in multiple posts, this sounds like someone got a sh*tty grade in her class or just didn't like her (or didn't like her TAs, which is a completely separate issue). Personally, I appreciate that she occasionally says something funny or laughs in a lecture - I took her IntroCP course at the same time as an IntroIR course with Bruce Cronin, who was a fucking robot most of the time, and the contrast was quite sharp. For either of the classes I've taken with her, really all I've had to do is show up to lectures (and pay attention, because she does actually cover material in them) and *occasionally* skim the readings to feel prepared for exams and papers. And I do mean only VERY occasionally - more in CAP than IntroCP, but in general she covers reading material pretty thoroughly in her lectures. If you're doing ALL the reading for either of these classes, you're going to be less prepared than if you just paid attention in her lectures and much, much more sleep-deprived. IntroCP exams are consistent with what you'll have to take later if you're a PoliSci major, or even if you're just taking CC or LitHum - they're not easy, but they're also not torture sessions. The paper is not too bad either, imo (the prompt is meant to let you have some fun, I think - based on my experience in PoliSci classes, it's shorter, less rigorous, and lets you be more creative than a lot of assignments, which I think is appropriate for an intro course). The TAs in IntroCP can be rough, boring, or both. I certainly did not have a good one, if there are any. It's unfortunate, but that's what happens with huge intro classes (you'll live). If you're expecting every single aspect of a 1000-level lecture to be non-stop thrills and will be mad if that doesn't happen, I don't know what to tell you. I had the opposite problem in IntroIR (bad professor, good TA), and this worked slightly better for me, but honestly discussion sections are everyone's least favorite part of big lectures (usually including the TAs). I definitely liked CAP better, since it's a smaller class with a tighter subject focus and I happen to personally enjoy classes small enough to have discussions rather than huge lectures. This year was the first year it had a TA, apparently, but there was only one and she did a good job mostly just helping Kasara with random minor tasks. It also covered some topics that align with areas where she's done a lot of research, which I think was exciting for her and seemed to energize her (she even tossed in one or two papers of hers).
Professor Kasara is by far the worst professor I have ever had in my academic career. In terms of her lecturing, she cannot properly articulate ideas, concepts, and vocabulary. She also suffers from poor enunciation where she sounds like she is speaking in cursive, for all her words slur together as she laughs, cackles, chuckles, and snickers mid sentence in almost all her sentences. Because her lecture slides are quite lengthy and filled with information, it is near impossible to jot down and take notes based on her slides during lecture time. What is even worse, is that most of the course information needed for the exams are in er slides but she does not post them on canvas until weeks after we have covered course material. She often times does not upload the slides until near the exam deadline, often adding new lecture slides less than 48 hours before an exam. Although Professor Kasara assigns a text book and a supplementary coursebook, they both are not as heavily used as it may seem in the syllabus. However I would suggest reading the case studies and examples presented as she draws on them the most during the exams and lecture. Lastly, discussion sections are mandatory but they are good because you can at east ask clarifying questions since there is so much course material to sift through. However the worst part of this course is not the lecturer and her poor ability to lecture with slides. There are numerous TAs that help facilitate discussion sections and exams. These TAs all grade the exams as well, choosing a very particular and rather peculiar way of grading. For each exam, each TA is assigned to a set of 2 or 3 questions that they grade. For an example, TA #1 would be responsible for grading questions #2 and #3 of everyone's exam in the course. This caused great discrepancy in grading, especially since there is so much course material to sift through in each exam and on top of that the TAs were difficult and unyielding graders.
Class was very interesting. I learnt a lot from it and was a perfect intro class. A lot (but fair) of work if you want an A though. The one thing that was frustrating was that Professor Kasara talks to fast which makes it hard to understand/follow the lectures.
She has good intentions and seems to try her best, but she speaks in cursive - laughs in the middle of sentences, and is sometimes hard to understand. She's always smiling, which is sweet, but the students are just confused about class material! Grading is weird, there's no percentages that equal any grade it's just a letter grade slapped onto exams, Kasara teaches off slides that seem to come directly from the textbook, and it is hard to understand what is happening during her lectures. Overall, content of the class is good and I learned a lot, but the teaching methods could have been improved.
DO. NOT. TAKE. THIS. CLASS. Kasara is overall just a horrible professor. Her lectures are disorganized, unhelpful, and confusing. The slides are slightly better but they really don't go into depth about concepts. She's so unclear about what is going to be on the exams and whether questions will come from the book or from lecture or both, so trying to productively study the right things is basically impossible. The TAs are actually the minds behind most of this class, which really isn't saying much either. Discussion sections definitely go into more depth but a lot of the concepts we spend an hour a week going over in section don't ever end up on the exam, so why bother even attending. Speaking of the exams, they are graded by the TAs, who for whatever reason seem to have forgotten that this is an intro class and not a senior seminar. They grade WAY too harshly and expect you to know every small detail about a concept, taking off at least 4 points even if you got 99% of the answer. It's so disappointing to study so hard for these arbitrary and subjective exams when you won't get a grade that reflects how much you know. It's also insane to try to answer 5 short answers (which are usually 2 full pages of a bluebook), plus 5 IDs, all in a 75 minute time period (that is, if Kasara actually lets you start the exam on time). I really cannot stress enough to anyone considering taking this class to just wait until it's offered by another professor. If you are at all skeptical of the class TAKE SOMETHING ELSE. Such a waste of time, should be an easy class based on the material but your grades will never reflect how much you actually know. You'd be better off taking Orgo or something.
John is the best! He is such a dad and clearly cares a lot about what he teaches. Sometimes he is a little boring since he mostly reads off the slides, but he managed to keep me mostly awake for a 6:10pm class. The readings are really interesting and in general, this class really made me want to keep pursuing comparative politics, a subject I was not interested in at all before. Exams are challenging, but with some preparation you can do well. Not necessary to do all the readings because your TAs will tell you the important parts. Take this class!
First of all, she is a sweet woman but here comes the "but". 1) The lecture notes are posted on courseworks and it is hard to justify taking notes in class when you don't have to...? 2) I had Hadas as my TA, she is wonderful and informative but the discussion section did not supplement the lecture. It often times felt like a completely separate class. 3) The exam format is fair because you only have to answer 5 out of the provided questions in each category but the grading process is a mystery to me. On the first exam I basically fact vomited all over the page. I wrote down everything I could remember and put 2-3 examples and ended up with a B+. On the next exam I wrote half as much and got an A. Grading is very subjective compared to Intro to American where I was provided with a rubric that explained why I got the grade I did. 4) The final research paper was absolutely ridiculous. We had to pick a country and fix its problems. #rough TL;DR Not the worst class offered, weird grading, not really recommend
Try very very hard to get Hadas. She has such a talent for explaining confusing bits of the dense readings or parts that weren't explained enough in lecture, which is so important, especially if you have the mumbly, fast-talking Kimuli Kasara as your professor. She's also hilarious and a really cool person, which is refreshing in political science. All things considered, section is exciting and actually pretty effective. How often does THAT happen?
Do not take this class. Kasara is one of the worst professors I have had at this University. Her lecture slides are more helpful than actually listening to her, but unfortunately she posts them to courseworks weeks after the material has been introduced, sometimes mere days before an exam. She is disorganized, and you can tell she relies on her TA's to do most of her teaching for her. The lectures are too hard to follow, and her slides are chock full of the tiniest, faintest text. She is an extremely knowledgeable woman but she is simply not a good professor. And then she has the nerve to get offended when we don't show up to class. I'm upset I bought books for this class, it wasn't worth the money. Most things get summarized on the slides anyway. You can learn a lot from them, but there's no indication of which material will appear on the exam. There is just so much information to sift through that you won't even be tested on it's ridiculous. Also, like 2/3 TA's were unusually hard graders, so they were a really fun addition to an overall shitty class.
Kasara is definitely not the most clear of lecturers and she goes incredibly quickly through her slides which are often packed with text - I would sometimes just give up trying to copy things down because there was no way I would get it all. She mumbles and often seems a bit disengaged with the people in the room while she lectures, so if you can't handle that than this isn't the course for you.While she clearly knows what she is talking about she isn't great at communicating it. That being said, I learned a ton in this course and overall I really enjoyed it. She has dense lectures and she often expects you to know about the situation or event that she is lecturing on, but if you have done the readings you will have a pretty good understanding and should be prepared. The reading is pretty textbook and dense, but it definitely helps you understand the course - you can often skim to find the key points and she will fill in the details in class. I thought that my TA held great discussion sections and was incredibly helpful - he went over anything we didn't understand and made sure to cover all of the tough topics in an engaging way. The TA's also hold review sessions before all of the exams which are really helpful. The exams required quite a bit of studying but if you have good notes and can determine the key concepts you should be fine (she also uploads all of her powerpoints online so you can review from there before exams).
I could see how some people don't like Professor Kasara. But at the same time haters gon hate. This class could be amazing for certain kinds of people and terrible for others. It really depends on how you learn. As someone who has a very hard time learning from textbooks, and rather pays extremely close attention to lectures and slides, I have enjoyed this class. Having read practically nothing I feel like I've learned so much more than in any other polisci class at Columbia and am expecting an A- overall. She's a decent lecturer and has really comprehensive slides that she posts on courseworks that really tell 90% of what you need to know. That being said this class is not for some types of learners. There are the people in class that read everything and either don't come to lecture or don't pay attention once they get there. If this is you YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. With professor Kasara these are the people that never seem to know what's going on and get bad grades on the exams (and I suspect the people below who thought the course was confusing). In terms of personality, Professor Kasara can be subtly hilarious in lecture (if you pay attention), but I can also see why some people could think she's a jerk. Like she'll make jokes throughout lecture, but also swear heavily at you if you don't put your pen down at time in an exam. If you raise your hand once or twice she'll learn your name and affably tolerate your puny existence. Just don't piss her off personally and you'll be fine.
I came into this class with extremely high expectations based on culpa reviews, but found myself extremely dissatisfied in a number of different ways. (1) If El-Ghobashy is a "genuinely nice" person as other reviewers have said, it really did not come across in her class. Instead, her demeanor was invariably condescending and just flat-out annoying. Constant reminders about how she was "going to teach us how to think" and about how we should or should not take notes were honestly just ridiculous. I think El-Ghobashy really epitomizes the self-aggrandizing academic...if that doesn't bother you, then pay no heed to this point, but I really found it incredibly annoying. (2) I think the first complaint about the way she handled lectures really carried over into all other parts of the class. The main assignment, the "research design," is basically just a fake research paper, and the reason she assigns the dumb thing instead of an actual paper is because she doesn't think you're smart enough/competent enough to actually write a research paper. Then, on the first draft of the assignment, she only gave an A-range grade to one person in the entire class of 150 students clearly just to make the point that we need to pay attention to her class (I mean, really, who does that? High school teachers maybe?). She actually graded my first draft, and I swear she didn't even read the whole thing...so much for her "detailed comments" bs. This assignment really just made me super frustrated, although granted I've taken several polisci classes before... but even if you haven't, the only way you learn how to do research is by DOING IT, not by doing some pseudo research assignment. I'm still glad that I took Intro to comparative with her instead of kasara, because I've heard Kasara is actually terrible. But if you don't have to take it for major requirements, I would highly consider just passing on it and taking a better comparative class like Latin American Politics or Politics in Russia or literally anything else. A few other points: - class was well-organized, deadlines/syllabus were clear. - she is kind of a ramble-y lecturer. She is engaging body-language-wise, but she often goes off for 20 minutes talking about something that could be said in 2. She acts like the stuff she's saying is so nuanced, interesting, and unexpected, when it's really not very complicated at all. Also, slides did not really go in any logical order, and she constantly confused herself about where she was in the presentation. - One other thing about her lecture-style which I found incredibly annoying was how she tried to get so much class participation in a huge lecture. This is just dumb. Nobody in the class wants to hear their peer who didn't even do the reading talk! As much as I found her annoying, at least she actually knows the material and is worth listening to. I know this is kinda mean, but it really got annoying honestly. That's what section is for (although I admit it's still painful there too). - sections are PAINFUL. half of the people never talk and just pray that you don't get one of those people in your section that can't articulate anything but likes talking. My TA, Giancarlo Visconti, is awesome, though, so if you can take it with him, definitely do. - Haven't gotten any final grades back yet, but it's definitely possible to get an A in the class.
I really would not recommend taking this class. Kasara assumes everyone knows everything about all of these political regimes, which is pretty unlikely considering its an intro class. The reading was dry and annoying and way too long, and the weekly discussion sections did more hindrance than help. Kasara often mumbled during lectures and did not explain the concepts clearly. I assume you could do okay if you did all the readings, but considering they are so long it just doesn't seem worth it.
Most people, upon learning that an entire room full of overachieving Ivy League students didn't do the reading for class, might take the opportunity to reflect on the workload or their teaching ability. In fact, the other 3-4 TAs decided to summarize readings for the class if they weren't already. Not Papcke! Her discussion group was anemic. She needs some work on facilitating conversations. Even if she ran great discussion groups, why would you want to be disadvantaged compared to other TAs who don't take attendance and try to be proactively helpful? Your grade depends on you finding another TA.
I took this course because it was required for my major. Words cannot express how much of a drag it was to go to this class. Professor Frye is a great guy and is very accomplished in academia when it comes to comparative politics. However, if you dislike theory-based courses, you will hate this course. The discussions sections did not help either. The readings were long and dense. My TA really didn't break down how the exams would be and we didn't know what IDs would be on the exam. Yet, the exams were not that bad if you read and studied beforehand. Overall, the class was not great at all and should not be an intro course.
Bernard Tamas, is, in two words, quite incompetent. Sure he has his fans, and his lectures are certainly "interactive", but the quality of his oratory declines by the minute until you begin to wonder how he got a teaching position here in the first place. He enjoys infantalizing even the most complex subjects of comparative politics simply out of expediency (but probably because he lacks the articulation to elaborate). The class is easy, yes, you probably will get an A with (some) of the readings (and common sense, it seems), but don't expect to receive an "academic" approach to the fundaments of comparative politics. The TAs seem to know some of the concepts better than he does... Nonetheless, Bernard seems like a nice guy to know personally, and he does his best to ensure that students feel at ease to speak out in lecture. Due to this however, the class is basically taught by a self-righteous group of around 8 students that sit at front of the lecture hall and enjoy flaunting their brilliant young minds. These same kids naturally dominate the discussions as well...expect to hear their endless (seriously, these people have a lot of crap to say) normative opinions on the despicable nature of Russian politics or whatnot. Ergo easy A -- that is, if you do what they tell you and like to show off (which you probably do considering you're here after all), rudimentary (for lack of a better word) professor.
Tamas is definitely enthusiastic. He is, however, an awful lecturer. As the semester progressed we covered less and less new material in lecture, and by the end we would be spending 1hr reviewing material from the previous lecture and 15 minutes covering a little new material. Tamas wants participation, but the result is inane and obvious comments which Tamas runs on for lengthy periods whilst the rest of the lecture hall falls asleep. The class is heavily biased towards the study of democracy, rather than the other fields of comparative politics. My TA, who was great, also said that probably 1 in 3 readings should have been updated (we read a lot of stuff from the 60s which has been improved upon). On the plus side, readings are fairly interesting, and in terms of actual work, the class is a joke.
The review directly below is, for the most part, correct. Professor Tamas is very open, approachable, and invites student participation in lecture. He never shoots anyone down. This is theoretically great. However. Class is soon dominated by people who don't actually know what they're talking about. Tamas sometimes reverts to asking simple, obvious questions to spark participation, yet it is always the same 3 people responding to him with answers taken verbatim from the previous lecture. This is very frustrating and eventually people with anything interesting to say stop bothering. This makes for a very irritating lecture, even though Tamas himself is great. Maybe it would be different with different classmates, but it's an intro class and it's hard to get away from that fact. The readings are often dull (frameworks of regime types, etc.) but a good basis and useful in future comparative politics classes.
Now, I took Huber's class because I had to. Culpa really scared me, because it paints a picture of a man who is boring, uninterested in students, and unfair in grading. I was terrified that his class would suck. As a student who made a C+ in his class, I could badmouth him like the rest of you who have never gotten a bad grade in your life and are taking it out in the form of an anonymous professor rant. Instead I will be honest in my critique for you. Huber is NOT boring. He has passion for the subject. He works off powerpoint, but he does engage the class, and has fun classroom votes and experiments throughout the semester. Video clips are spiced in as well. Please note - many subjects that Huber will include on the midterm and final are only briefly touched upon on the powerpoint, but explained in class for 30min...so try to at least attend one class of his a week. Huber is NOT uninterested in students. Huber is just a very busy individual. He is the department chair. Instead of being scared of him like I was at first, go and talk to him. He always stays after class to answer questions. He holds office hours and keeps to them religiously. He is a nice man with a bad rep. He has the appeal process and diverts to TA's because his classes are so large and he has a life, believe it or not, out of the classroom. Huber IS unfair in grading. This is because the grading is done at random, and not by him at all but by his TA's. Again, he has large classes, so this seems unavoidable. There was only one good TA - Ali. The other two - Tabinda and Brett - mean well but are disorganized and have no passion for the subject. I disputed both my midterm and my second 3 page paper and after the long process, my appeals were rejected. I made an A on my first paper which was the same outline/method, then received a C on my second. The same paper essentially, just different graders. It's luck of the draw, really. Appeal to Ali. Had I to take this course again, I would have appealed over and over until I got my A. So try that method if your grades don't go as you wish. Good luck. And don't be scared of Huber. He's above average, at least! :)
The other reviewers generally have it right when it comes to Professor Huber's abilities as a lecturer - he is on the whole painfully dry, uninteresting, disorganized and unable to engage students, and reads off his own notes for most of the lectures (with the exception of a couple when we learned about the median voter theorem/party politics that were actually interesting). It was so easy to just fall asleep during lecture, especially as the lecture slides by Professor Huber were just as disorganized as his teaching, with numerous spelling errors and no real attempt at clarity of explanation, which made them very difficult to revise from and review concepts unless you paid extremely close attention in class. There is no denying, however, that the material covered in class was very interesting and compelling - I very much liked the first half of the semester's work on concepts of democracy, though it is also true that many of the readings were way too long, and seemed unnecessarily so, especially as some of them weren't even discussed. It was virtually impossible to have done all of the weekly readings by the midterm/final (at least if you really wanted to have a thorough understanding of content). My other gripe, which may seem strange, is that I felt that the final did not adequately cover all the material we learnt, perhaps because the breadth of the course material was just so wide. This class's ONLY saving grace is Ali (the TA), who is absolutely FANTASTIC. She is the complete opposite of Huber - lively, engaging, energetic, able to stimulate discussion and keep them interesting, and organized. She was competent, responsible and knowledgeable, and always comes to section prepared with her own summaries of all the week's readings (pretty remarkable when you consider how many there were). Most importantly, she clearly cared very much about students, and was always willing to help us out outside of class (whether it was with papers, reviewing them after we got them back, or revising for the exams). I honestly think this class was only made bearable by her and her hard work, especially as she made a lot of the concepts we learnt a lot easier to understand (a far cry from the other TAs, whose sections I also went for). On the whole, an interesting class that is worth taking (based on the material), but I'd stay clear from Huber's class; you'd be better off with another professor. Take his class only if you have Ali as a TA.
What a horrible class. Although I'm certain that Professor Huber had the best of intentions, his lecturing was disorganized and lackluster on a good day, the readings were tedious and unnecessary, and the TAs tended to grade as if it was a real (not intro) course. Even though we were discussing interesting material, everything seemed boring coming out of Huber's mouth. Don't get me started on Brett's inadequacy both in stimulating interesting discussion and clarifying readings or topics discussed in lecture. (I went to the optional discussion section all of two times.) I'm the type of student who tries to go to all his classes, but this was so painful that I stopped around three weeks in. The only thing that got me through were the relatively well-organized lecture notes that are put up on courseworks weekly. They cover almost everything that you'll need to know for the tests. If you're a PoliSci major and need to fill intro course requirements, please take IR and American. Even if you're going into comparative.
I really liked this class. I thought it was interesting, and relatively well-presented. Professor Huber reads directly off his notes during some of the lectures, which are painfully boring, but at other times does a really good job presenting the material and making sure the class is engaged. He responds to questions and always stays after class if anyone has outstanding questions. The reading is fairly unnecessary, I didn't do much of it throughout the semester; I don't think anyone did. The two papers that we had were both on interesting topics, and were fairly graded, but by the TAs. The midterm was doable, if a little crunched for time, and the final was along the same lines. Overall, I thought it was an interesting class for someone who is looking at a political science major or concentration.
AWESOME. I loved this class, definitely one of my favorites this semester. Tamas is passionate about comparative politics and democracy. He is an expert in his field (Hungarian and Eastern European transitions) and has a great basis of knowledge in general. He was very good at encouraging class discussion and was receptive to student opinions. He never once shot anyone down and found merit in most student responses. Our section was small for an intro class, and there were some very good discussions in lecture. Tamas did a good job of outlining the important points in major readings and provided equally helpful examples. Even though he's a visiting professor, I hope he stays. He was much more competent than many of the tenured faculty I've encountered here. He only missed one lecture, and that's because his daughter was born. He was definitely interested in his students and was more than happy to answer any and all questions. Elham, my TA, was AMAZING. She went out of her way to encourage students and was more than helpful with preparing for papers, tests, and was a good source for info on the discipline. She is hands down the best TA I've had at Columbia. I hope to see her in more of my comparative politics classes.
Kasara means well, and it was her first time teaching, but that doesn't all the things wrong with this class. There was a really large amount of dense reading, especially for an intro course, and she tried to cram tons of different topics into one semester. She was also very disorganized, emailing the class about changes to the reading so often that it almost was more to figure out what to read than the reading itself. The two 3-page papers unfortunately required large amounts of work because of how much extra research was necessary, and the topics were so broad (i.e. "To what extent is Turkey a democracy?") that it is nearly impossible to appropriately answer the question in the space allotted. Because there was always something you didn't manage to include, points were inevitably lost and the 39 or 40/40 needed for an A was rarely attainable. The grading system was a wreck, with Kasara applying various curves throughout the semester, and no one really ever knew where they stood. Though the lectures were terrible, boring, and worthless, the topics were often interesting and the discussion sections (with much more interesting and involved TAs) were usually great. The midterm and final were totally based on the readings, and were impossible to finish on time; the final had literally double the ID's, short answers, and essays than the final of another 3000-level poli sci course I took.
LECTURES: Professor Kasara isn't a natural lecturer. She stumbles and repeats herself and is generally somewhat confusing. However, she does cover interesting topics and tries to tie in theory with her own experience. She posted powerpoint slides online, but they were only a skeleton of the lecture itself, don't rely on reading them and skipping class. READING: A ton. I ended up with a two inch+ stack of double sided printouts. Most of it is pretty interesting, but it's hard to keep everything sorted in your head after a while. PAPERS: Two short 3-4 pagers, which you have to cram a lot of material into. It was hard to cover everything expected in that space. You have to do some independent research, but don't sweat it. TA's grade them and I thought the assignments were relatively easy although others disagreed. EXAMS: Midterm and Final were my big complaints. The exams were long enough that it was hard to even finish in the time given, much less put serious thought into answers. It was stated that the exams were to ensure you read and understood the readings and arguments, except there was so many often similar readings that it was impossible to really demonstrate your knowledge. I studied a lot for both, and did worse than I thought I would. There's just too much to keep straight in your head and regurgitate on paper in such a short time. GRADING: I though the grading criteria was strange. Before the final she explained that 35% of the class would be getting As, 55% Bs, and the rest Cs. This might be standard procedure for large classes, but it makes no sense to me. Judging by the previous distributions (Prof. posted them after midterm and essays), this artificially raised the % of As. How can you decide that 35% of the class will do well before the final is even taken?
This class was unnecessarily complicated for an introductory course. While the material is interesting, the manner in which Professor Kasara presents it makes it difficult. The midterm and final were a mix of IDs, short answers and essays --- basically for these you just needed to have a good grasp on all the readings and review the main concepts on the powerpoints she posts online. The papers were the most difficult part of the class. She asks you to answer 5-6 questions in 3 pages and each person has to do a different country. There is definitely extra research required. She tries hard but she lecturing does not come naturally to her and eventually many people just stopped going to class. I would recommend staying away from this course -- the work you put in probably wont be reflected in the grade you get and there are much easier ways to fulfill the requirement.
An introductory course with complex readings and average lectures. Kasara makes clear powerpoints, but the readings are often dense and don't seem entirely appropriate for a 1500-level course. The information, however, is interesting and thought-provoking, and if you both attend section with any of the excellent TAs and work to complete all of the reading/teach yourself, you stand to gain a lot from this class. Not difficult to get a good grade, but note that Kasara will curve exams and papers in order to limit the number of students who get As in her class - a B is relatively easy to get, but an A will be somewhat difficult.
This class was by far the worst I've taken in two years at Columbia and three at various other institutions. I'll just tick off the list of things that were clearly wrong, in my opinion, and we'll see what kind of a picture develops. First, she was barely ever on time for class, and also cancelled several classes without much (if any) warning. Second, she lectures off powerpoint slides, as mentioned below. What isn't mentioned below is that 75% of the slides are filled with random graphs of internet-downloadable data that you will not need to know. The other 25% will be densely packed with necessary terms and concepts, but since they are interspersed with the 75% useless filler slides, it's often hard to know which are which, and Professor Kasara offers no hints. Third, she speaks quietly and nervously, which I wouldn't mind except it seems to actually distract her and keep her analysis of the concepts both shallow and erratic. Fourth, to fill space and time, she often puts the most mundane questions to the class for discussion, and lets an awkward silence hang over the room until one or two of the same students answer. Often those two will have decided that sleeping was more valuable and therefore Professor Kasara will have to answer the question herself. Fifth, she did not follow the pace of the syllabus from which she expects you to have figured out what readings will be discussed in class. Often lectures would be two weeks ahead of the syllabus, while at other times we were a week behind. To fix this problem, readings were dropped left and right, and for the first time in my college experience a new, significantly altered syllabus was distributed towards the end of class. Now, all this may make you shrug and some decide to just take her class and learn from a good T.A. The following problems relate to that approach, which I and most of the rest of the class took. Sixth, grading was incredibly arbitrary. The tests were too compact for the time given, leading to a generous curve which was never announced until long after the midterm was over. The reason was that more people ended up with a C and below and very few got A's. This same curve was then taken and used for the final, which was much easier due to the extended time period and ended up being a net loss for students. As a result of those two curves, I pretty much know the grade distribution of the class, and while it's a little harsh and b range heavy, the larger point is that it made up as the class went along based on an ever-changing and flawed set of procedures, a major mistake for a so-called political scientist to be making.. This leads to my seventh point: the T.A.'s complained as much as the students about not knowing what the rules were. If T.A.'s are known to be a bit arbitrary in their grading at times, try giving them carte blanche, or for a better metaphor, a loaded machine gun with no practice. They were left in a difficult position by the lack of any clear rules, and each reacted in their own way, which is natural. Some became more strict, others less so. Professor Kasara showed no signs of awareness of this or any other "facts" of college lecturing. There is much more to criticize here. She appears to have borrowed another professor's syllabus. That professor teaches here, and is supposed to be much better. It's a tease having his name scrawled across the front page of most readings. Those readings are quite interesting, but all very technical, even for political science. So expect to labor over them for hours upon hours each week if you hope to get anything out of this class. The last point I'll make is that even if the information did get through to you, as it did to me, through doing the painstaking readings of painstaking studies of different constitutions, electoral systems, etc., there was never any evidence that Professor Kasara was grading or influencing the grading of the papers, which is an unsettling though in a relatively steeply curved, lord-of-the-flies style class where even the T.A.'s have clearly lost all signs of hope. I would highly recommend the department disallow professor Kasara from teaching lectures on any fundamental topics until she has about fifteen years more experience.
Prof. Kasara was simply terrible. The problem was that she didn't seem to know where to take the class. Although we understand that it was her first time teaching this class, throughout the entire semester there was no progress and the class just kept getting more and more boring. The format of the class was basically staring at a power point presentation for 90 min (most of the times even less since she usually ran out of material), analyzing graphs and data from 1997, and fighting an uncontrollable need to sleep. The content of the class was fine, for some of us the TA's really made a difference since lectures were useless.
This class is an easy A-. You don't have to go to any of the lectures. Just do the reading, go to sections, study for a couple hours and you should do well. I would actually suggest not going to lecture. She shows about 10 slides a class and rambles about most of them. She also this annoying tick that she won't look at students. I didn't this until a couple of weeks into the class, but she literally will not open her eyes to look at students. She lectures with her eyes closed. One day I went up to ask her a question, and she answered my question with her eyes closed! It is one of the weirdest things I've ever seen from a teacher. If you are a go-getter, this class is not for you. This is not much to be learned in this class, and if you do want to learn, you won't be learning from Kimuli's lectures. If you are an athlete and like easy grades for a small amount of work, this is a class made for you.
she's fantastic. poli sci major or not her Comparative Politics course is worth taking. the course is interesting, the expectations are clear, and she is unbelievably smart, precise, and engaging. make sure not to mess around with any of her rules though because she is tough. discussion section with TA was mandatory but absolutely pointless, if anything that was a negative experience. that said, i absolutely recommend this course. it's challenging and interesting and it's also very possible to receive a good grade. an A- requires work but is totally possible.
This course should not have been as boring as it was. The course material covered was very broad and there was little structure, which made it hard when it came to exam time and we were told that anything and everything said in the course so far would be fair game for IDs and short answers. The grading was overall very harsh and based upon a rubric that was released after the assignments were due. I think that I learned a lot and am glad I took a course in comparative politics, but wish it had been with a different professor. If you can avoid this course, do! The professor lacked passion and clarity--especially with the numerous mathematical models he employed, which just mystified everyone. The readings were ridiculously long and numerous. I can't emphasize enough how impossible it was to be prepared for discussion section.
Clearly uninterested in undergraduate students. All graded assignments were randomly distributed as if to undo any possible help the feedback had provided. Any appeals for grades had to be done through an official and time-consuming process which could allow for a TA to even lower the grade of a student -- Professor Huber refused to regrade anything himself. Huber has a lot of jaw about 'fairness' but in practice seems to believe in quite the opposite. Shockingly (but not if one has taken this class), Prof. Huber specifically states in his syllabus his disinterest in any communication with students. Seems to have planned his office hours in the morning and only one day each week in order to avoid being bothered by those pesky undergrads. If Prof. Huber had bothered to stop singing the praises of laissez-faire capitalism or braying about how the government was "stealing" money from the AIG executives, he might have noticed a not-terribly-frequent student trying to ask a question every once in a while. Instead, he seems more interested in reading directly from his lecture notes or powerpoint slides. Assignments were vague and seemingly graded in an arbitrary manner. All assignments were randomly distributed so there was no point in reading any feedback, as the person grading your next assignment might be expecting something entirely different from the last. There was essentially no way to appeal a grade. Possibly the grossest injustice was the fact that all assignments and exams were graded by a rubric whose guidelines would only be provided after the assignment or exam had been graded. Readings were seemingly chosen for their length rather than substance, including one assignment of nearly a hundred pages which was no longer even relevant. So-called "essay" assignments were expected to be merely a regurgitation of subject-matter rather than to provide any substantive or unique analysis of a given situation. Confined to three pages, frequently any attempt to be anything less than deadeningly boring would result in the drastic . Ability to use the English language and such basic tools as "transitions," "introductions," and "conclusions" were apparently punished, not rewarded. Daring to include a thesis frequently seemed to be grounds for receiving nothing higher than a B. Professor Huber seemed to be more interested in keeping assignments as short as possible (any deviation from the strict page-limit or other formatting guidelines would result in a disproportionate loss of points) than fostering, amongst his students, any ability to analyze anything other than how to get Microsoft Word to provide the 1" margins he fetishized so much. In both exams and assignments, insight was punished or ignored rather than rewarded -- theses on in-class exams or out of class "essays" were optional and frequently resulted only in going over the ridiculous page limit. Instead, TAs were instructed (one can only assume -- because, were Transparency International to examine the workings of this class, Prof. Huber's 'administration' would rank worse than many of the most brutal dictatorships) to look for keywords. In this class, mentioning the material related to a 'keyword' but not the word itself can result in a 1/3 letter-grade punishment. As for cultivating interest in comparative government or political science generally, the consensus seems to be that Prof. Huber made many, many political science majors seriously rethink their major. One suspects that many now-history majors were formerly political science majors who made the awful mistake of taking this class.
This class made me seriously reconsider whether I want to actually major in political science. While Professor Huber is a nice guy as a person, as a professor, he seems somewhat lacking in areas. Seemingly every reading spends a significant amount of time discussing just exactly how awesome free-market capitalism is. Professor Huber basically taught this as fact and expected us to regurgitate this on exams and papers. Taxes are explained as "anti-growth" and defined as "confiscatory" rather than people actually contributing to the public good. While we do briefly cover public goods theory, it is cursory and Huber seems to believe that government should provide public goods and nothing more. To be fair, rubrics for papers are posted on CourseWorks, but, conveniently, only after we get our papers back. Don't count on using the same rubric twice, since they're specific to each assignment. Also, since the papers aren't graded by your TA but instead all papers are randomly distributed amongst the TAs, don't count on having same-quality papers getting the same grade. If you feel that your grade isn't fair, you can write up an appeal to your own TA, which takes almost as much work as writing the essay itself. But, and here's the truly awesome part, the TA has the option of lowering your grade if you appeal. You can't appeal to Huber himself. He also explicitly states that he doesn't want e-mails from anyone in the class unless you are specifically directed to do so by your TA.
Thus far, Professor El-Ghobashy has been my absolute favorite professor at Columbia. I took Dennis Dalton's Political Theory and classes with Pious, but I never felt as though I learned anywhere near as much as I learned in this class. Professor El-Ghobashy (or Dr. Mona as some call her) is extraordinarily well organized and each class clearly follows the readings. She uses powerpoints for lecture (which I loved for organizing my notes), but she doesn't just talk right from slides and always gives interesting points that aren't in the notes. Any questions that are asked in class are fully addressed - which is very important for an intro course - and the discussion sessions only further help this. Also, as professor accessibility is important even in an intro course, Professor El-Ghobashy makes herself available to talk to and is very approachable and personable. However, she is pretty strict (no cell phones in class or you will be made an example of, don't come late/leave early, etc.) and doesn't like to waste time (if you write her an email about something that is clearly stated on the syllabus, she'll respond telling you to look at the syllabus). In lieu of the course itself, it is a very important course for any Political Science major to take at some time in their college career. The approach of the course is very systemic and practical and will give you a completely new (and extremely valuable) view of how and why political systems function the way they do. Focusing on independent/dependent variables and examining cases like scientific experiments, you get to see the "science" part of political science. Political philosophy is important, but this class is more useful for those who want to take a more practical approach. The "comparative" aspect comes in when trying to determine what factors cause the outcomes (revolution, democratization, voting, etc). The course covers: - How to read/examine from a comparative politics perspective (it's an intro course, so this is important and believe it or not, very useful) - State formation - Nationalism - Democratization - Revolution - "Why do dictators care to dress their windows?" (Hybrid regimes) - "Why are Some States 'Predatory' and Others 'Developmental'?" - "Why are Some Countries Resource-rich but Poor while others are Resource-poor but Rich" - "Why do citizens vote?" (very interesting articles and discussions!) - "What explains civil wars?" - Political corruption (didn't get to this in time because of review sessions) Overall, it is a WONDERFUL course!
Honestly, I didn't think she was that great. She is a nice woman, and she obviously knows Latin American politics. Unfortunately, she didn't really know all of the subjects we'd discuss which led to slow and mostly uninteresting "discussions." She's be late a lot, and much of the class was spent just listening to her accent which was really cool. I really liked Virginia and she was a fair grader; she's just not spectacular.
What a horrible class. He obviously did not care one bit about the students and was just there because he had to be. An uninspired set of readings, totally uninteresting lectures, and no contact with actual students. The TAs essentially led the class, and the only interesting parts of the class were when students would raise their hands and take over. I looked forward to when he would play news clips because those were the only fresh parts of the class. It seriously made me question Political Science as a major. Don't take his class if you can help it.
Prof. Huber is a nice man and it is obvious he knows the material but the class itself was slow. Discussion sections focused heavily on reviewing ideas from the lectures however the tests were based more on the readings. A major curve was used otherwise most of the class would have failed easily.
Mediocre class. Material wasn't very interesting. A lot of memorization. Best part of the class - tying what he taught us to events happening around the world. He's a nice guy but it just wasn't an amazing class. How you do in this class all depends on your TA - they do all the grading. You could get lucky or end up with self-important, harsh, unfair TA that expects way too much out of you, like this class is the only one you're taking. (Oh and the discussion section is torture - no one ever had anything good to say.)
Virginia was very helpful and entertaining. She was able to get across the important concepts and answer difficult questions. She is very knowledgeable of Political Science, especially Latin American politics. I liked that she would give her honest opinion about the readings, especially when they were poorly structured or overly simplistic. I felt that we achieved a lot in most of the 50 minute, weekly discussion sessions (except for the one after we got back midterm grades, which was PAINFUL, due to several irate students).
Although this was a huge class, Huber was a great lecturer. He helped to make a relatively boring subject fairly interesting, and I feel like I learned a lot from the course.
Mona is a fantastic professor from her immaculately organized lectures to the chocolates she feeds you when you visit her at office hours. Yes, she (and her crew of finely hand-picked TAs) does expect a lot in return...class participation, completion of the intensive readings, and scholarly essays. She may seem intimidating at first, but you can definitely tell that she cares about you. She will ardently invite the class to attend office hours, and from my experience, it is an offer worth taking up. Not only does she give you chocolates there, but you will also gain a good deal of wisdom about comparative political science or any other subject your conversation may wander off to. Also, I would attend the movie screenings as they are always followed by a really insightful discussions. I found that these casual and impromptu discussions helped me solidify what I learned in class the most. The films are all interesting too, so you won't find yourself suffering for two hours. This definitely isn't an easy class. In fact, I will be surprised if I even get any form of an A, but with the knowledge and critical skills I've gained, I could really care less. Mona will push you hard and mold you into a more intelligent being in the end. I highly, highly recommend this class to all students, even non-political science majors (who can pass/fail it and just gain all the wonderfulness that is this class). This Mona will make you smile.
Guy is a fantastic TA. In fact, he'd make a great professor as well. When it comes to political science, he definitely knows his stuff. His discussion sections were actually helpful and far from a waste of time, as some discussion sections sadly are. In the first two or three sections he helped us with how to analyze the fairly dense political science readings and how to present coherent and persuasive arguments while we reviewed the readings. He also helped build connections between the readings and all the topics. Guy also made himself very accessible, and he is definitely a wealth of information you will not want to pass up!
its a good class but heavy workload. do not think of this class as an intro, you must have some background knowledge in the field. she is very passionate about what she teaches but grading is usually harsh. if you want to do well, be prepare to spend hours weeekly doing all the readings. the class structure is a bit displaced, its a good class to take if you want to get indepth into the field if not, do not choose it just to fulfill a requirement!
I had read reviews that one could get by just by doing the readings. This is entirely true. Oldenburg's lectures, while interesting, have little to do with the readings, on which both the midterm and the final are based upon. Half of the lecture is a discussion about international news, which sometimes was somewhat interesting, but definately not a time spent working towards something useful for what you would be graded on. Surprisingly, I did very well, even without any previous knowledge about Politics, since most of the readings are dense and require time to read. You could wait to do the readings until before the exam, but I don't recommend it.
There are definately better classes to take, but there are also worse ones. Ngoni teachers straight out of his lecture slides, which he posted after each class. Class itself is not that interesting, but he will gladly discuss something more in depth if you ask him about it or comment on it. He focuses very much on political theory and uses countries only as examples to explain the theories. I think Prof. Linda Beck's intro to comp politics class focuses more on a number of different countries political systems. I would have found that more interesting, but that's a matter of personal preference. It was a summer class. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't good. It fulfilled my intro requirement for the polisci major ad I got a good grade, so I'm glad I took it. But I think you'll probably do better taking Beck dring the regular year and taking a different class in the summer. I would have taken Beck, but I didn't register in time and she wouldn't sign me in after the first class. Overall: so-so
Yeah. Adam is still a grad student but he is awesome. The lecture was painful nut section was not. I feel bad for the more than half of the registered students who never came. So, we didn't discuss the reading much or actually do the reading most of the time. Adam didn't either & he was ok with us not doing the insanely boring reading. We had a lot of good discussions about the topics & material as well as many times where we joked around. Adam was very upfront about what he wanted from us for the exams & paper. During the last section before each exam, he gave a like one sentence summary of each reading, which was extremely helpful. He also is an easy grader. He does come off as arrogant though. But he really made a terrible class worthwhile.
I enjoyed this class and am glad I took it with Professor Beck. I found her lectures engaging, though the readings were sometimes a bit excessive in comparison / conjunction with work from other courses. The TAs for this class were absolutely amazing, and I would recommend going to discussion sections (which were mandatory). The midterm and final had the same format and were graded very fairly. Excellent class!
She is an outstanding professor. I really enjoyed her class. I came in knowing nothing about the topic and only taking it to fulfull a major requirement, and I left with a general love of the subject. She engages the class in discussion even though it is a big class, and reviews the material slowly so that everyone will understand it.
Mehmet Tabak is a very passionate man. He truly cares about the subject, and even though it is a large lecture class, he encourages participation. Correction: he begs his students to participate, talks up his office hours, and genuinely seems to enjoy it when students raise their hands to disagree. That said, most of the students who do participate are the typical, know-it-all Poli Sci majors who phrase complex questions that do little more than promote their knowledge of obscure political issues to a rather unimpressed class. The class itself is fairly interesting. The readings on theory at the beginning of the semester are a total bore, not to mention completely unnecessary. The end of the semester features writings by Tabb and Stiglitz which are much more interesting. The lectures are interesting, although at the end of the semester he has a series of lectures that are meant to summarize the histories of four countries in 8 lectures, which ends up being disappointing and boring to anyone who has even a basic understanding of the history of any of the countries studied. That said, the lectures are far from painful.
Yes, it's true that Oldenburg could use some work on his lecturing style. Some organization, coherence, and flow would be nice during the lectures. However, the syllabus that Oldenburg selected was absolutely superb. If I were to take the class all over again, I would have gone to class only on the first day, the day of the midterm, the day of the final, and to hand in my country study, and would make friends with someone who goes habitually. But I would make a point to DO ALL THE READING or at least as much as I could, because, in hindsight, as a political science major, the readings give an absolutely phenomenal foundation in comparative politics, and they're quite good. I still refer to some of the articles that Oldenburg selected for the syllabus. Take this class not for the lectures--skip 'em--but for the reading. It's about 100 pages a week and well worth it. Instead of assigning a textbook, Oldenburg selects some of the best and most important journal articles and book chapters in comparative politics, and organizes them so that you really get to see the debate among political scientists, which is rare in an intro course. While I took the course with him, I agreed with most other students in the class that it was malorganized and incoherent. But I was thinking only about the lectures and recitations, but as soon as the class ended, I realized how much I actually learned (from the readings).
The other reviews are right on. This woman was not my cup of tea. Unfortunately, you will hear otherwise from those less experienced with professors of political science. In short, Beck babbles incoherently on the most inane points, she cannot complete her thoughts, she is unable to teach on a college level probably because she seems completely oblivious to the fact that her students are out of diapers and have had some (sarcastic) education before. She will spend more time running a commentary about things happening in the class amongst her students i.e. "as this gentleman just asked", "what I'm trying to get you to see" "this is crucial folks" yada yada yada without EVER getting to the point that she is leading up to. Without ever getting to the essential INFORMATION of comparative politics and the country she is talking about. I don't know whether this is a result of her shallow level of knowledge or if she just doesn't understand what a course is all about. She quotes pop culture tv shows more often that real world issues. Oh and don't be fooled by her grand theatrics and overdone gestures all to pretend as if she is saying something of paramount importance and complexity. She dummies every potentially fascinating thing down. The TAs however are fabulous and will be the saving grace of this class.
Let's rewind the tape completely. Go to any other poly sci dep't prof and ask them about comparative politics. They will shrug and nod their heads. This is a bullshit course in general. If you're subfield is not comp. pol. then you have no business taking this course. It's a knot of cables that you can't undo. And this peacefully obscure unintellectual professor only makes things worse. I think Linda Beck teaches it as well - take her if you have to take this course. Oldenberg was probably pulled in because no one wanted to ruin their reputation by teaching this course. And the TA can destroy you as well. Piero Stanig, who somehow got rave reviews, was at least entertaining when he outright contradicted Oldenberg in class. Now there's a 120k Ivy League education for ya. Why don't we just have ego mud wrestling? I couldn't stand reading half of the readings. You've never seen so many terms in your life, and they can't decide on any of them. But if you're a robot, and have somehow disconnected yourself from mainstream consciousness, you should be cheerful about this prof and class. There was usually 20% class attendance - what does that tell you? Without the right prof., comp pol. is a spider's web.
I've heard bad things about intro level poly sci classes - i.e. that they are boring and involve lots of reading - but I didn't think Mehmet's version of Comparative Politics was that bad. He is an engaging lecturer who I found pretty easy to follow, especially because he writes an outline on the board at the beginning of each class. I was often frustrated, however, when he didn't get through everything on the outline, and I felt like he probably ended up cutting stuff from his lectures because he spent too much time on certain things. He's definitely a bit of a Marxist - probably one of the last at Columbia - but I thought this made him a more interesting lecturer, as long as you keep in mind that most political science profs don't hold this view. He asks for questions frequently (so he can take a break from talking, he says) which allows about as much discussion as I've ever seen in such a large lecture class, which is great. I thought the reading selections were a little bit odd at some points, and didn't seem to correllate with the lectures at all sometimes, although most of the important theory authors were there. The textbook you use for the country studies is very straight-forward, but you don't really get more than a textbook perspective on the countries through the reading, which is unfortunate. Also remember that Fall 05 was his first semester teaching the course, so his lectures and the reading list are likely to improve over time.
He may be not that interesting or insightful, but this class is EASY EASY EASY. Midterm and Final require two or three of the articles from the course, and the four one-pagers take about 10 minutes to write (total). Top that off with a 5-7 term paper and this has to be the most ridiculously easy class at Columbia. I would complain that most of Tabak's analysis is pretty superficial, and he likes to make broad statements about political systems and processes with absolutely no evidence. But who cares? You don't even have to go to lecture and listen to it.
Professor Tabak is actually a very entertaining lecturer, not in the least because of his distinctly Marxist leanings. Everything has a little slant that you have to remind yourself not to take on faith. He deals very well with discussion and questions for having over 100 people in the class, which is usually pretty lively. I think he provides a very good and thorough overview of the topic, and we looked at 4 countries as case studies to apply the various theories. My only frustration was that, although the readings were interesting, I got the feeling that they were only providing one side of the issue--no voices defending viewpoints that Tabak personally disagrees with.
Not amazing. Not horrible. The lectures are pretty boring, and pretty useless, but I can't say I don't like the class. The readings are good, and if you get a good TA, the discussion section is good. If you can find another professor, great. If not, it's really not that bad and the lectures are not necessary.
Don't bother asking questions when she pauses her lectures for class discussion; if what you ask about isn't specifically on that day's PowerPoint presentation, she'll fumble around for a bit, and then promise to "get back to you later." Had this happened once or twice, I might be inclined to say she was just lazy; however it happened continuously throughout the semester. Another weird thing about Beck is that she constantly tries to dress up this class as phenominally difficult. Maybe she's overcompensating for something else lacking. Maybe she resents the fct that she's stuck teaching a required Intro class. Anyway, don't believe it. This class is easy (can we all agree that any class that involves regular use of PowerPoint is not challenging enough to be taught at Columbia?).
Piero has been a fabulous TA. First of all, he's exceedingly intelligent. He doesn't bullshit responses, and he knows the readings and lectures quite well. He's accessible, interested, and works at the perfect pace in our sessions every week. Sometimes he doesn't seem confident in his knowledge or how interesting he may be. He's a really intelligent and helpful guy and I would definitely sign up to have him as a TA again.
Whoever wrote that review claiming that Oldenburg was better than Jervis has some serious problems and should stop studying political science immediately- you clearly have NO idea what poli sci is about or what you are supposed to get our of these classes. I went to all of Oldenburg's lectures the first half of the semester and I was APPALED at what an awful teacher he was. I would start taking notes and look at them at the end of the class and be like "What the HELL is this guy talking about?". Not one of his lectures were planned, and he failed to convey and idea whatsoever all semester- let alone giving us a sense of what comp politics is about. Like another reviewer said: avoid this guy like the plague. Unless you are one of those girls who doesn't mind what the prof is talking about and insist "But he's cuuuuttte".
Ok, everyone, listen up. I've got some startling news for you: You've all been duped into thinking that this was actually a legitimate classÂ—it wasnÂ’t! It was really just the filming of a reality T.V. show called "Jackass Teacher!Â” The T.V. audience, of course, knows the secret from the beginning and hysterically observes the chaos and comedy that ensues in the class! Philip Oldenburg performed brilliantly in his role as the professor. I think he may have even fooled some students. He never fooled me though.
Don't ever have this lady. You can't even understand her. If you're in a class that your section matters, then DO NOT HAVE HER. BORING. BAD TEACHER. TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!
Piero was my TA for Intro to Comparative Politics and after the first discussion section, I was already looking forward to our next meeting. He was extremely knowledgeable about everything on the reading list and he did his best to help clarify many of my uncertainties about the course. He really took hold of the subject matter and was very focused on making sure we benefitted as much as possible from every section meeting. I often emailed him with questions and he always responded promptly and politely. Many people would probably agree that initially he seems somewhat arrogant, but donÂ’t be intimidated; after a while youÂ’ll find him to be a genuinely cool, down-to-earth kind of guy. His personality can be characterized by a mixture of brutal honesty and charming wit, making for really engaging and lively atmosphere. The only criticism I have is that he sometimes seemed to be in a hurry, and towards the end of the semester he seemed somewhat burned out. Sections were still informative, but not as upbeat. I imagine that juggling grad school courses and a teaching position simultaneously must be stressful, so I feel it would be imprudent to criticize too harshly. Perhaps under different circumstances those sections would have been more effective. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend taking PieroÂ’s sections because heÂ’s more reliable than most scholars IÂ’ve encountered at here at Columbia and he definitely knows what heÂ’s doing in the classroom.
Avoid Oldenburg like the plague-- while he faces some stiff competition, he is hand's down Columbia's worst professor. His classes were, to say the least, a mess, a veritable hurricane of useless and esoteric information. Maybe he prepared for class, but he hid it well. I was interested in compartive politics because I thought it would be a way to examine the different governments of the world. Scatter brained and lazy, it's not even particularly easy to get an A. This class had absolutely no redeeming characteristics-- poli sci majors, take intro to American and IR instead. Trust me.
This is my second poli sci class here at Columbia and I must say, the intro classes' success lives or dies with your TA. Your discussion section is basically more important than the lecture itself. Oldenburg was infinitely better than Jervis in that you can understand what he's saying and at times he evens looks at the class. He was also very open to debating specific topics with students in the class. However, the lectures didn't always feel like they were guiding in the direction that his syllabus said we were headed in. The job of being able to decipher the readings came down to the TA's. My TA Carmen LeFoulon was a stern one. We were expected to have done the reading before section and she made it obvious to the rest of the section if we hadn't done the reading. Overall I came out of this class with a very concrete knowledge of comparative politics but also a lot more questions than I had going in. I guess that's part of the class. Oldenburg def. sparked my interest but occasionally he put me to sleep and frustrated me.
Let me start by saying that I wouldn't reccomend this class to a freshman. It isn't really an intro class, in the sense that you don't really learn a fundamental body of knowledge. Also, the class will be ten times easier if you have taken other political science classes. If you like Political Science, the topics are really interesting, but you might as well do the readings on your own. Most of the readings are journal articles, which my TA found difficult to understand and explain sometimes. They are pedantic, jumbled, and loosely related so that you don't really understand what you are supposed to be learning. Prof. Oldenberg doesn't believe in lecturing on class topics, so you are pretty much left to fend for yourself as far as learning the material. Your discussion sections will help, and my TA was really good, but you can't learn everything in an one hour discussion section once a week. Basically, unless you are a COMPLETELY independent learner, then this is not the class for you. Prof. Oldenberg doesn't explain, clarify, or discuss anything useful. So get ready to do a shit load of reading and take really good notes, b/c that is about the only thing that will get you through this class.
Professor Oldenburg, while a very kind, fair, and good professor, lectures in a way that tends to obscure more than it clarifies. In an introductory course, his tendency to blur distinctions or expound on qualifying points, most often in an unorganized manner, ends up quite unproductive in acquainting students with the basics of the field. The assigned readings, however, do seem to deal with the most significant topics and questions in the field, and all grades are based on the readings. This of course renders the lectures useless for any student who finds them uninteresting or uninformative, which was common judging by class attendance. Nevertheless, Professor Oldenburg does no harm through his lectures or grading policy. One may simply avoid the lectures if one so chooses. The country study (described below) is in fact quite interesting if one would like to study the politics of any country in some depth. The course definitely accomplished its goal of introducing me to Comparative Politics as a field and as a methodology. The professor treated concepts in a nuanced fashion without stating personal opinions and spent considerable energy attempting to instill in students' minds the process of comparative politics question formulation and research. No extra political or historical knowledge prior to the course is required or rewarded, given the nature of the midterm and final. The grading policy was quite generous, since an extra 10 possible "bonus" points were awarded for discussion section attendance. In the professor's own words, if one completes at least 100 pages of each weekly reading assignment, one should be capable of completing the midterm and part one of the final (as described below) with a satisfactory grade. Overall, I highly recommend the course for its approach to the study of comparative politics. While the professor's lectures could have offered much more, the course still accomplished its purpose as determined by its introductory nature.
She's a nice lady but sometimes I felt like she was treating the class like toddlers. Now I really don't mind when teachers baby you (especially for grading) but she got really annoying sometimes. Don't let her scare you about the readings. If you have a good TA (like I did) you'll be just fine. Some sections of the class were great, others I wanted to shoot myself.
Linda Beck is a good professor whom seems to work very hard at teaching, organizing the class, preparing lesson plans, and cooperating with the TAs. I wasn't that crazy about the class, probably just because it was an intro class and the material was expansive and superficial. I felt like the readings were sort of a pain, because they all had to be completed every week in order to "participate" in discussion section. And I thought the readings were a little boring, and definitely lengthy. All in all not a bad experience. She brought in really good guest lecturers.
This class is a required waste of time. Emphasis is placed on memorizing vocab and being able to BS on essays, which is totally mindless and unhelpful to actually learning the material. Beck picks readings which are dry and ill-suited to the topics being taught, and it's quite possible to avoid doing them at all if you can collect the vocab needed for the midterm and final. Lectures are boring and confusing, and a substansial amount of time is wasted on questions and debates that are not intelligent or worthwhile. Avoid taking this class if you can -- it's not hard at all, but you'll resent having to waste your time.
DO NOT TAKE THIS COURSE. Chalmers is the most boring person on the face of the earth. Unless you enjoy watching a confused old man get lost in HIS OWN powerpoint presentations while wandering off track and spouting meaningless polisci jargon like a beast of horribleness - avoid this class at all costs. And the T.A Ben Reames is arrogant and is of little use.
Chalmers appears to be a nice old man. He is mildly humorous in class and is somewhat absentminded. His lectures are boring and unnecessary because all of the notes are posted online. His grading is slightly unpredictable and haphazard. It's not an easy class simply because his grading is unpredictable and slightly unfair in the context of his introductory-level teaching. This class left me with little motivation, and disappointment.
Pretty straight forward class. Professor Beck teaches with great clarity. The material is appropriate for an intro level course. Each class is outlined on the blackboard so you know what to expect and explains the topics very well. She takes a bit too much time to answer questions but is genuinely interested in what students have to say. Beware, though all of the TAs were nice, some are very difficult to understand. Also, some TAs take attendance and some don't...so choose wisely. Overall, a solid class--I highly recommend it.
Linda Beck is one of those few professors who can take an introduction course and make it interesting. Yes, she is politically correct and she may talk about issue that some people do not care about, however, given the fact that this class could have been a tortuous experience, bordering on a violation of human rights, it was quite tolerable and at times even enjoyable. In terms of presentation, she is very well organized and appears to prepare for the lectures. She adds variety by having guest lecturers and although she does have a tendency to tolerate too much class discussion, if you HAVE to take an intro to political science class, then this is a good one. The worst part of the class was the other students. Be very prepared to be in a class of people who know absolutely nothing at all, along with people who know too much. The reason I mention this is that it makes the discussion sections and in class comments tolerable if you always keep this in mind. Beck does a very good job navigating the mix of students, which does take talent. In addition, she tries to answer/respond to the questions and comments by relating them back to the topic she is addressing. She is accessible in office hours, and willing to help.
This class is overall ok. The subject matter was interesting, if a little broad and overextended. Professor Chalmers is very nice and approachable, dryly humorous at times, but a very boring lecturer. Though his lectures emphasize key points, his incompleted sentences and mumbling make the lectures worth printing out but not attending. Office hours, on the other hand, are definitely worth attending. The professor is extremely helpful--he even joked that all we had to do was come to him with questions that were preferably worded a little differently from those on the exam. I would not say this class is an easy A but it is doable.
If you ever take any Political Science classes and you can choose among more than one TA and Mary McCarthy is one of them, go with the other, even if you have to rearrange your entire schedule to do so. I don't think MM has had an original idea in the last 6 months -- based on her silly questions and blank stares until SOMEONE said SOMETHING, ANYTHING in section, she might not have had ANY ideas in the last 6 months. Her comments on our paper proposals were singularly unhelpful (in my case, she reworded the same criticism of my project that I had already expressed). She displayed less insight and understanding of the readings than we did, and most of us didn't read. Sections were often more confusing than enlightening -- each hour spent in her attendance-required discussion section is a lost hour. Eventually, most of us read, watched the sun set, thought about all the places we'd rather be, came 10, 15, 20, 40 minutes late and wished we'd skipped altogether. To be charitable: it must be the case that MM is good at something. Everyone is. In MM's case, whatever it is has nothing to do with comparative politics, might have nothing to do with politics at all, and has no place leading a discussion section for an otherwise OK class.
Beck is so intolerably politically correct she made my nose bleed every morning. She is totally insecure, has no opinions worth sharing, and is, in toto, as good a professor as Elmer Fant after his third consecutive stroke. Avoid her Intro to AFRICAN politics at all cost.
Teaching is boring, at times suggestive and patronizing. Beck is blubbering endlessly about, in my opinion, super-unimportant issues, skipping most of important topics in politics. TAs were great though, saved our sorry asses.
While reading the first review I was all set to sit back and decide "it's all been said." Then I read the second. Whoever wrote that is exactly the kind of student that the first reviewer was complaining about. If you don't understand the material, that's what the mandatory discussion sections and office hours are for. I found Beck's lectures well organized and informative; she connected well to concepts and theories of which the reading provided examples without summarizing the texts. However, she was at times hard to keep up with, simply due to the speed with which she spoke--a direct result of too much time lost to questions. Her one unforgivable mistake (besides bringing in the librarian)was entertaining questions which should have been answered by "it's on the syllabus." All in all, a good professor, but a little too nice.
A simple rule: when teaching 100+ students, don't attempt class discussion. Yes, yes, students need to be engaged and monotonous lecturing is bad, but having suffered bleary-eyed through this course (it was at nine, and I am lazy), I can tell you that the discussion periods which occupied the last twenty or so minutes of every class were torture sessions where a tiny minority of the students would talk endlessly and say nothing. Beck's lectures were workmanlike and straightforward--not particularly original or gripping, but informative in a difficult-words-on-the-board way. The largish but reasonable reading list was a little too heavy on recent journal articles, which may well have been examples of impressive scholarship but which I found too dry and wordy for an intro class. Of the two papers, one was incredibly vague ("It should be about a country and involve politics" was Beck's initial description, though the TAs who did the grading weren't quite so permissive) and the other seemed to admittedly poli-sci-clueless me as an request for empty definition games: "Does culture matter in identity politics?" To be fair to Beck, though, she did put an extraordinary amount of effort into the class, and she was generally accessible and helpful, not to mention far more interesting one-on-one than in class.
This was a great class for an introductory course. If you are thinking of being a Political Science major I highly recommend this course over the intro to theory or international politics. Linda is a terrific lecturer and answers all of your questions until it makes sense.
I could not disagree more with the previous reviewers. Chalmers is phenomenal. True, he's somewhat disorganized and he rambles, but it's good rambling. Scratch that, it's phenomenal rambling. He's brilliant and though he doesn't always keep to a strict outline, he finishes each lecture having made the important points and filling the rest with fascinating detail. Ok, here's the crucial part: he is head and shoulders above every other Intro to Comparative professor, hands down. The other professors basically just do cursory reviews of german politics, french politics, nigerian politics, etc. Chalmers, on the other hand, does the theoretical stuff: Social movement theory, democracy theory, regime breakdown theory, etc. The thing about Chalmers course that sets him apart is that if you do the readings and go to class, not only will you put yourself easily into the A or A+ range (he's pretty easy), but you'll end up using what you've learned in nearly every other polisci class you take.
Do not start off your poli sci career at Columbia with this class. THe readings are boring and nearly impossible to get thru, and there are a lot of them. The lectures are rambling and very hard to follow. The only saving grace is that the TAs are excellent, as they are in most pol sci classes. I came out of this class feeling like I learned a bit about the 4 countries Chalmers used as case studies, but I really learned nothing about comparative politics in general. The class would be better off titled the Fall of Democracy instead of Intro to Comp Pols, since we never really discussed what the heck comparative politics is. Go with IR instead of this, or choose another prof.
I took this class (Spring 2002) in an attempt to avoid dying of boredom in Chalmers's class, but instead I nearly died of frustration in this class, which appears to be a magnet for inane first-years of all sizes, shapes, and ways of life. Beck is friendly enough, but if her delivery isn't enough to make you feel like an eighth grade girl, then the ridiculous comments she tolerates from your classmates will. She devotes twenty to twenty-five minutes every class to answering questions, which may sound good, but trust me -- it isn't. Also, she is ostensibly an African scholar, but she rarely tells us anything interesting about her research, and instead opts for the annoying line of "but if you want to know more about that, you have to take my West African political science class ..." Perhaps she doesn't realize that her students don't care about her OTHER political science class, it's enough being in that one and we want to know about her field of expertise! The stupid waste of time of bringing in a Barnard librarian to teach us our way around the Internet and library resources was the coup de grace for this massive waste of time that represents all that is evil about introductory political science classes.
This class turned me off to political science. Elizabeth Friedman has the unique ability to make her students feel like they are in grade school again--and that's not a good thing. Her attempts to garner class involvement by asking inane questions like "what kind of political values does your family have?" or "what issues do you think people should vote for?" only produce equally banal responses from students looking mostly to brag about their international origins (btw, poli-sci classes in general are full of these types of people). Friedman's condascending tone, clear political bias (lame, tired election quips abound), and poorly chosen readings counteract her organized lectures, although she frequently doesn't cover whats on the handouts because she often spends too much time asking those silly questions. The TAs and discussions sections in general in this class were awful, making most of the readings totally irrelevant except for the Kesselman text (I sure wish he could teach this class) which is useful as background information on each country, although devoid of the theories of democracy, representation, etc. which her lectures focus on. If you took Zisk's Barnard International Politics, loved it, and hoped to repeat the experience in this class, don't bet on it.
This is a great class. Prof. Friedman makes lectures that could easily be a boring recitation of facts and dates extremely engaging. If I had taken this class 2 years earlier, i would have majored in Political Science. Prof. Friedman is super duper nice and helpful and not in that phony "gee im so glad you came to my office hours" way. Genuinely there to teach (yes, as in to bestow knowledge) and help you when you need it. Engaging, challenging and worth it. *Beware of uppity poli sci majors who think they know everything.*
Boring as hell. B-O-R-I-N-G. His lectures only get mildly interesting when he veers off the subject (or when he makes jokes about the onset of senility, which he doesn't realise are bloody ironic), but then the lectures become worthless with respect to the midterm or final. He distributed questions in advance for the midterm and final, though, so you can get away with not reading a lot of the assigned stuff. Anyway, to make things worse, he's awfully scatter-brained. Lecture organization is non-existent and he often rambles on and is unable to finish what he planned to cover. He managed to get good TAs, who took some lectures (and led the discussion sections, of course). Thank God for small mercies.
I agree wholeheartedly with the first reviewer. Better yet, I was THIS close to becoming a political science major and following this class, I ran mercifully to the history department and cried tears of joy as I declared my major. The readings were brutal and incredibly boring. Hundreds of pages of assigned readings that were impossible to digest no matter how many times you put the book down and picked it back up. The online journal readings from JSTOR and MUSE were the worst. A good lecturer can make even the driest material come to life. Chalmers's class is the absolute worst class that I have taken while at Columbia. His lectures consisted of a few sentences worth jotting down and then deteriorated into tangential nonsense about his dissertation. Run while you still can! The T.A.s undeniably saved this class. I stopped attending after the midterm and simply went to the discussion sections. I gained more in that one hour a week than I did the entire term under Chalmers's tutelage.
I came to college fully intending to be a polisci major, but nearly changed my mind after taking this class. Chalmers' lectures were incredibly boring and disorganized, and I found it difficult to retain any semblance of interest while listening to him ramble on at 10:30 in the morning. Some of the readings were really interesting works that hinted that the class might have been great in more capable hands. The recitation (not mandatory) saved my ass in this class. I had a great TA who would go over the material (but not summarize it) and initiate some discussion. Gradually it made sense just to do the reading and go for the one hour recitation every week. cos the lectures just confused me and wasted my time. I got an A in the class.