Introduction to Human Rights

Apr 2021

I really really loved this class. It was a great introduction to the human rights field, and I found Professor Nathan to be very kind and humble considering his impressive resume. Like one of the reviewers down below said, you can spend as much or as little time on this class as you want. The readings for each class are definitely heavy, but I never read more than three of the readings and still finished with a good grade. The lectures pretty much cover all the material you need to know, and Prof. Nathan does a good job of explaining very broad, difficult human rights topics. I'm not surprised that people have left scathing comments about Nathan below; after all, he addresses pretty complex, emotional issues (like migration, public health, religion) that people in my class had very strong views on - views that did not always coincide with Nathan's. But I never once felt like Prof. Nathan was forcing his opinions on me when he expressed them, and he was extremely open to discussion on those opinions with students who disagreed with him. Of course, I disagreed with him every now and then, particularly on gender, but that doesn't mean I think he's a horrible person. Overall, take this class if you want a good, broad introduction to human rights by a professor who has a lot of experience in the field and in academia.

Apr 2021

deeply problematic professor, super outdated and offensive. If he didn't have tenure I would report him for some of the ways he treated students in the class class was super easy if you can get past how deeply outdated his human rights are you don't need to do any of the reading if you're not taking intro to human rights maybe he's fine but there are some topics there that he just was super white savior-y about, which is ironic because he was meant to be teaching us about neo-colonialism easy class, good TAs but be warned, he's problematic as hell

Mar 2021

Prof. Nathan is a pretty easy class, but his view of the world is seriously outdated. I'm really not an intensely liberal person, but Prof. Nathan is just, years behind in terms of Sexism, Religion, the LGBTQ+ community, etc. The class where he defined gender, gender performance, and sexuality was one of the most uncomfortable and cringy moments in my life (I'm straight & even I was starting to get offended). The discussion classes are largely a group of students trying to explain to him modern concepts like equity and all of us from radically different ideologies coming together to disagree with him. The class was not so hard, and was super fair, especially over zoom. If you can put up with the old-white-man-ness of it, the class is fair and the topic is interesting, and he's only a little condescending. The TAs are really qualified and come from all over the world which is pretty cool. The rest of the Human Rights department may not be like this, but he certainly is.

Jan 2020

The lectures were pretty boring, did not have to come to class to do well. Unfortunately I would not recommend this unless you have to do it for a major.

Dec 2018

Most boring class ever. Definitely an easy A. Professor Nathan's voice puts me to sleep. At first I did huge efforts to try to follow lectures but in the end I gave up. I took turns with some friends to go to class and it turned out even that was not necessary. You don't need to go to class for the midterms or papers as the papers are completely independent from class lectures and the midterms is half google and half the posted slides.

Jan 2018

Andrew Nathan is an incredibly interesting, intelligent man. He is an average lecturer; however, his course Introduction to Human Rights is incredible. You can do as much or as little work as you like and all the material is challenging, but interesting. One can go to all the classes, do all the readings, but you can also skip all classes and not read at all and completely get away with it . I went to 5 classes at the beginning of the semester and then never again and probably did 5% of the readings overall and got an A just from googling and researching my papers and exams online.

Mar 2017

I have mixed thoughts about this class. I would recommend it, however I do not like how TA driven it is. If you happen to get bad Teaching fellow you're screwed, however professor Nathan is great and even changed one of my grades when I disagreed with a bad Teaching fellow. The Teaching fellows are somewhat helpful depending on which you get for a particular assignment, however some are great graders, while others extremely harsh, but they cycle so you get one per assignment. Nathan himself is a great professor, write down everything he says for the midterm and final and do not miss class. He clearly enjoys and engages with the material and although class is a bit boring, it feels purposeful for the exams. Do not do the readings they are a waste of time. The Two research papers are so vague and you can write about anything so it is very hard to choose a topic that is a "puzzling human rights question." So ambiguous it's insane. Take this class, I would consider it an easy A.

Jan 2017

I highly recommend this course if you are a human rights major looking to fulfill your introductory course. Andrew Nathan provides a broad overview of the various aspects of human rights. The readings are really interesting, however they are very heavy and I wasn't able to do them all. Nonetheless, I still did well in the class and got an A. If you put in the work, this class is easy to do well in. There are 2 papers and a take-home midterm/final. Different TAs grade each assignment, so the grading can vary-- however, if you adequately and appropriately answer the questions, you should be fine!

Jul 2016

I took this class as part of my major and because I was passionate about the subject, expecting to be able to sit through the class with blinders and just get this prof over with. I was wrong. This class had me considering changing my major because other upper-level classes I needed are only taught by this prof, and he is truly VERY bad. Lectures were quite boring and difficult to sit through, and he has the underwhelming tendency of being able to repeat himself five to six times per lecture, making it seem as he didnt bother to prepare much material. Most of the class didnt even show up, unless it was the final or midterm. The class is so basic that you can skip all of the lectures, not that I am advocating that practice, and still manage to get an A+. He is also VERY racially/culturally insensitive and allows students to be this way as well. On many occasions he has asked some Black Americans to speak about their culture, assuming they weren't from the US. He also has a very dangerous 'white savior' outlook to many human rights issues, implying that "wealthy, western countries" need to step in and coddle or heal poor, black and brown countries because they cannot do it themselves and we cannot expect them to make much progress by themselves.

Apr 2016

A very interesting topic that is all but ruined by this class. I took this class thinking I might want to concentrate in human rights. Well this class threw that idea right out the window. The professor is next to impossible to listen to (he sounds like the guy from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), the TA’s grade weirdly. On every thing I’ve turned in all the comments say “great!” “awesome point” etc and then at the end you get a B for not acknowledging enough counterpoints. Sorry buddy its only a 7 page paper what would you like me to do? If you’re majoring or concentrating in HR then you have to take it (I’m so sorry) but if not don’t bother. It's not an easy A even though it should be.

Dec 2013

Well..... to begin, DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS WITH PROFESSOR SNYDER. I honestly don't know how to describe the horrendous teaching methods and non-engaging lectures that this man put me through. Every class, the attendance when down drastically. He cannot find a way to be engaging to save his life. I honestly was so saddened by this experience because, genuinely, the material should be extremely relevant and interesting, but Professor Snyder made me want to jump off a building. Seriously, torture would have been more enjoyable. His thought process makes no sense, and he goes on hour-long tangents that are incomprehensible. I can honestly say that I did not learn one thing from this lectures. Thank god the midterm and final were take-home, because you simply have to pick the readings that apply to the questions you choose.

Jan 2013

I had been looking forward to this class since enrolling at Columbia. Never had a chance to formally study human rights before, and since this is one of the only courses explicitly offered by the human rights department it seemed like a showpiece for the new undergraduate major. Nathan is a nice guy, the TAs are all brilliant, and they obviously care about the students. Doesn't matter...Wikipedia scratches the surface of human rights - in theory, real-world practice or academic use - more than this class does. You can skip the lectures if you're not interested in the subject. Nathan lectures, too quickly and without slides. He defines things like women's rights by pointing to the relevant UN treaty and talking about how it is bad to hit your wife or discriminate based on gender because the UN says so. I suspect that if the UN hadn't been able to pass the treaty, he would be okay with skipping it because that would mean it wasn't officially a human right. Rinse and repeat for refugee rights, indigenous peoples, and the rights of businesses. Don't expect something more complicated like delving into the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment or the death penalty. Don't expect a thorough discussion of a framework or terms that will help you in future human rights/polisci classes. I even bought all the books! Not that I had to. Just wanted to ensure that I kicked ass in my major's course. This was a mistake. No one kept up with the readings, including myself. They seemed relevant but weren't integrated into the material at all. None of the previous students or human rights majors in the course with me read anything more than the one main book (Neier) at best. I also only went to one (optional) TA session and never saw the professor because I didn't want to be grilled about untouched readings. As a transfer student, I don't have enough time left to change my major. After taking this class, I would if I could. THIS is the foundation of a top human rights department? An entire semester almost entirely devoted to memorizing different, transient UN bodies and treaties? Not a word about conflict resolution, or peace and justice studies, or the workings of social movements, or...?

Dec 2012

I really took a liking to Professor Nathan, but really for no reason. His lectures were interesting when I paid attention, but I really had no motivation to do so, as they had nothing to do with the readings, and the assignments had nothing to do with the readings or the lectures. The reading list was the longest thing I have ever seen in my life, but was irrelevant to the class. I think I may have done one reading the entire semester. The papers, "Exploration papers," were very fun to do, but again, had nothing to do with what we learned in class. I did the entire midterm by googling the answers, and got an A+. If you're looking for an easy class, take this one. if you're looking to learn a lot about human rights, don't take this one.

Jul 2007

In Spring 07, Professor Putnam and Professor Jack Snyder co-taught Intro to Human Rights. Snyder generally provided the "Realist" persepctive on the material we covered; Putnam generally provided the "Constructivist" or "Liberal" perspective. The material was, for the most part (i.e. 80% or more), very interesting to me as a Human Rights concentrator, but others (Human Rights concentrators and those for whom Intro to HR was their first course that dealt extensively with HR alike) might disagree. In any case, Professor Putnam was a delight to speak after class and during office hours; she is very intelligent, approachable, and friendly. With respect to her past publications, intellectual capability, and educational experience (JD and PhD from some pretty stellar institutions), she is a gold-nugget pick for the Political Science Department. That being said, her lectures were on one hand interesting but on the other extraordinarily disappointing. The material was fascinating; the questions she raised and attempted to answer were cogent and her answers thereto were well-reasoned and often attempted to cover diverse persepctives on/apply contrasting theories to each issue; in other words, her treatment of the material was thorough, thoughtful, and often enlightening. However, her presentation of the material was not so hot. Professor Putnam was always inclined, with the best of intentions, to stuff as much material as possible into one lecture. To cover the material as thoroughly and fairly as possible, Professor Putnam raced through the lectures as if each one was a standardized test. The results: she rarely presented very interesting and sometimes complex material as clearly as necessary (especially for an Intro class), and she sometimes got lost amid her overstuffed-like-your-milano salad lectures It would be unfair to attribute this entirely to Professor Putnam - Intro to Human Rights, like all Intros, seek to cover a vast amount of information in a short period of time. My tendency in the situation would be to cover all that I could cover, i.e. to do what Professor Putnam did. But she and her future students in Intro to HR would benefit from scaling back the amount of material covered in each lecture or in the course as a whole. Additionally, Professor Putnam would benefit from slowing down her lecturing speed and making more eye contact with the students (i.e. less reading from her lecture notes). This should stand as a disclaimer, not a scare tactic to frighten you away from taking classes with Professor Putnam. For those interested in International Law, Human Rights, International Institutions, and Rule of Law, Professor Putnam is a critical addition to the Poli Sci faculty. If she is given permission to/decides to hang around these parts, Professor Putnam will certainly be offering some very fascinating classes in the future. As of now, her lecturing abilities could use a lot of work, but I am confident that over time, if she wants to, Professor Putnam can become a much better and more appealing lecturer. With lecuturing experience (and the learning and confidence (a boost of which is super necessary in Professor Putnam case) that comes along with it), Professor Putnam has the potential to inspire many to study and get involved in Human Rights.

Jun 2007

very smart but exceedingly boring lecturer

Apr 2007

Let me begin by saying Professor Putnam is very smart and clearly knows her field. She has experience as well as the academics and she speaks a bunch of languages. From the lectures, you can tell that she has a vast knowledge of IR and Human Rights because she can always respond to the question and cite sources for further information. The reading material is varied and interesting. The only downfall is that Professor Putnam's lecture style is really difficult to follow. She jumbles points and it can be difficult to tell what the main points actually are. This is her first semester as a professor so maybe she'll adapt her lectures after feedback and the class will be a lot better next semester? If you're interested in this class, I'd recommend going in the first week and if you can follow what she says then take it.

Apr 2007

At the beginning of the semester Intro to Human Rights was THE class I was looking forward to...It promised so much and, so far, delivered so very little. Professor Putnam is an extremely intelligent woman (check her resume) and comes across as a nice person in lectures and during office hours BUT her teaching style is impossible to follow. The lectures don't seem to have any structure, she uses a lot of unnecessary vocabulary so it can be difficult to deduce what her main points are amongst all the fluff. The readings are really interesting but there are a lot of them and the lectures do not complement the huge amount of reading material. The discussion sections are led by nice TAs who seem to care but discussion is stunted by the fact that nobody fully understands the lecture and what the class is meant to learn from the course. There aren't any inspiring, fiery debates which I would expect from a human rights class. the midterm was tough and Putman said they graded it harshly so that we would work harder. In reality, the lousey marks that most people got, just demoralized the class and the lecture hall is now emptier than ever. Overall, this class has been my biggest disappointment at Columbia and I wouldn't recommend taking it for another couple of semesters as Professor Putnam refines her teaching style and develops the course. This class and the professor have the potential to be amazing and informative but that hasn't happened yet.

Jan 2006

This class started off interesting, but it was all downhill from there...while many of the guest speakers were really interesting the class is not worth your time...Prof. Nathan's lectures were useless and offered nothing of substance...he gets up in front of the class without a plan and just babbles on, and he will continue to babble until the end of class because he does not believe in ending class even one minute early...This class was just awful and the assignments were even worse...with six TA's and no real standards set, grades are arbitrary and you never know what you are going to's really unclear what the TA's are looking for when grading your work...Overall, although the class may seem interesting when you read about it, stay far away if you is just not worth the frustration

Nov 2005

Worst professor ever. The first few times I went to class, I thought he was kind of cute. After that, I just realized that he made cute little remarks to hide the fact that he never makes any points and he keeps repeating himself. Sometimes, it is difficult to keep from screaming, "GET TO THE POINT!" I don't recommend this class. If you are interested in human rights, it will turn you off. If it is possible to take this class with any other professor, DO IT.

Dec 2003

Prof. Nathan is the least intelligent Prof. I have ever had and has no problem displaying his incompetancy at every turn. I will never forget his comment on the Women's Right Movement, which he so eloquently compared to a "child wanting a cookie....if you give the child one cookie they are just going to keep asking for more cookies!" Yeah....uh huh. My roommates and I still laugh about that one. Or, when he was talking about the UDHR he said that the writers did not have in mind any rights being claimed by disabled people, for example. When a student called him on it, he said he had in fact "forgotten about the one-armed Canadian that drafted the darn thing." The list goes on. Although Prof. Nathan is a joke, his co-teacher, Shareen Hertel, is my new hero. She is totally intelligent, and articulate, and saves the class. Prof. Nathan needs three other T.A.'s to cover his verbal blunders, but Candace, Juntao, and Dani are awesome. The class is a winner, definetly take it, just skip all of Prof. Nathan's lectures.