This class is damaging to the nature of an academic institution. The professor starts with a singular thesis: America is a terrible nation of a privileged class that has wreaked havoc on the world, and presents each case to support this idea. In class, he said the following: “I do not accept that America is a legitimate nation… I’ve looked at the documents… there is nothing there.” After Trump was elected he told the class, “Just so you know, the way I’m approaching this… is that I’m not going to accept anything this man says or does as legitimate.” To have this man at the front of a classroom undermines the value of reason, critical thinking, and sound argumentation. If the Right wanted the shining example to criticize how academic institutions have leaned towards a moral fascism and no longer represent liberal values, this would be it. Any dissenting opinion was shut down by cries of privilege. There was absolutely no critical thinking or marshaling of facts or evidence that went on. This class is popular because you legitimately do not have to think to get an A. If you repeat the thesis over and over again that America is not actually exceptional because it has harmed certain people and certain nations, you get an A. This is the type of class that silences anyone with a dissenting opinion or factual argument. This is the type of class that makes students scared to speak out because they are afraid they will be labeled a racist, sexist, etc. This review is not at all out of malice towards the professor - he has strong ideological values that should be harnessed in political action. His passion and bias prevent him from facilitating any productive learning in the classroom but could be very useful in other realms. I truly hope that Barnard will not keep this professor on just because students like his class because it requires no thinking and makes them feel like their opinions are moral. This is not the direction universities should be going in.
Manu wants you to develop your own ideas about what it means to be human. This class isn’t a lot of work. Manu is clearly really smart, but he doesn’t know how to give an engaging lecture so the class is pretty boring and everyone is on their computer. I felt bad not doing all the readings, but they are really long and he tends to try to summarize them in class. The class might be more interesting if you do them, but that’s up to you. Grading: you start at 93% and lose a small percentage every time you miss a class or a posting. There isn’t usually anyway you can make up what you missed. You will probably get an A- at best, unless you do everything perfectly. He doesn’t let you know your grade throughout the course of the semester so you need to keep track of it yourself.
Manu is AMAZING. I honestly have never heard a major complaints from my classmates about him. He's the kind of professor that you love so much, you push yourself to do well because you don't want to let him down. He's kind, charming, and patient even when students ask dumb questions. He works hard to foster a community in his classes, even when they are on the larger side. Usually he starts the class asking if people have questions about the readings, hw, or upcoming assignments, and then he offers a space for students to make announcements about events on campus. He's an intellectual force who will drop knowledge bombs on you left and right. I think this is especially important since his classes often discus issues of race and American imperialism—topics that are not simple by any means. He always makes an effort to ground his statements with concrete examples, and asks us to stop him if we feel he is not being clear (which almost never happens). On days when I didn't feel like going to class I did anyway and was always glad I didn't skip. By far the greatest thing about him is that he wants to give you an A. As long as you don't skip too many classes, show up for the midterm and final, and do your weekly posting there is no way you can fail. He goes by a philosophy that everyone is in charge of their own education and that he is just a guide to help us better ourselves. So even if your essay is terrible, as long as it is clear a bit of effort was put in you will succeed. So far he is the only professor in my college experience who understands that heavy reading assignments outside of class does not translate into more knowledge. His readings are very reasonable in length, and are always relevant to the topics we are discussing in class. Because the workload is so manageable I was always able to do it and never felt drowned or overwhelmed. He is now set a standard for all my professors going forward, and honestly I don't think there is anyone who could possibly live up to him. I could rant and rave all day long about how great he is. No matter the subject or class title, if he is teach the course just take it. You won't regret it.
I love this class. Professor Vimalassery is very serious but also very understanding and approachable, and his lectures are both easy to follow along and thought provoking. The work load for the class is really not that much, with medium sized readings and weekly brief discussion posts. This class really made me want to learn more about American studies, I highly recommend it!!!!