American Urban Politics

Sep 2020

An okay class. I learned a lot about American Urban Politics, especially in NYC, but Vargas-Ramos isn't the best lecturer. The TAs were very helpful, though, and he's a fair grader when it comes to the assignments. There isn't a ton of reading (all from the same textbook), although I felt that this ended up being more of a history than a political science class.

May 2015

Bad: Lectures too fast and reads from his textbook/readings word for word in class. Sometimes, he reads verbatim to the point where it's so difficult to follow what he is trying to convey because everything he says runs together. At that point, it becomes had to contextualize what he is saying and how it relates and my mind shuts off. I don't feel like I get as much as I could from the lectures; he should try to read less verbatim/from slides and make it more conversational. There were a lot of times in class where I've thought "what is the main point?" "what am I susposta be learning?" Good: The manner in which he facilitates class discussion allows for an interesting exchange of opinions(usually related to the reading). Trying to participate in class discussion usually involves some level of trying to form an intelligent and coherent thought, so for me personally I really felt the intellectual challenge from it. The readings are usually beneficial(except from that urban politics reader(sp?) book---which is terribly cumbersome in rhetoric). He also is a really nice person overall, and seems to go out of his way to converse with some of the students before class starts. It makes it seem like he actually cares about the students.

Apr 2015

I'm so damn bored in this class that I feel compelled to write my first CULPA review. I really cannot state enough that this one of the worst classes I have taken at Columbia. Sure, I'll totally concede that the subject matter is intriguing and that I enjoy reading the textbook, but the rest of the class is an absolute farce. Class participation seems to be entirely based on mandatory attendance and the occasional poorly supported claims people make in class. Furthermore, Vargas-Ramos is awful. Not only is he an incredibly boring professor, pretty much just reading eyes-to-notes in complete monotone and racing through powerpoint slides (which no one takes notes on because let's be real, what's the point), but I also find him quite annoying and oftentimes patronizing. Typical class-participation dialogue: Professor: What is the reason [insert dumbly obvious question stated word-for-word in reading]? Student: Bla bla bla... The American Dream— Professor: And what is the American Dream? Student: Bla bla bla... Professor: And what does that mean to you? Student: [Insert completely subjective comment that has no relevance to the course] Stupid stuff like this happens all the time. Vargas-Ramos has no distinction between the necessary and the stupid. All is fair game. Pretty much the remainder of the class involves writing: choice between paper and five written responses. The written responses are more a waste of time than FroSci in its entirety. These involve literal regurgitation of the readings. No analysis necessary, that's too difficult! TL;DR: This class feels more dumbed down than any of my high school courses. Vargas-Ramos has no concept for what affects interest and true learning.

Feb 2015

Professor Vargas-Ramos was a fantastic professor. Our lecture was about 50 people but he managed to create an engaging atmosphere and many people participated. The topics were interesting and I genuinely enjoyed doing most of the readings. He was a very fair grader (if you put in the time, you did well) and actually got to know each student.

May 2014

Unclear how Scotty Minkoff doesn't have a single review written? He deserves a golden nugget. Assignments are clear and straightforward. Grading is more than fair. Lectures are extremely interesting (machine politics, national urban policy, fragmentation, etc.). His is easily the best professor in Barnard's political science department. Don't be late to lectures! I wish upon no one the shame Scotty Minkoff inflicts on those who are late to class. Grade Distribution: 25%: In-Class Midterm Examination 30%: In-Class Final Examination 10%: Discussion Section Attendance and Participation 15%: Urban Issue Journal 20%: Urban Issue Policy Memo Definitely take this class!

Apr 2013

Prof. Davidson is very nice, and her class was very bearable and pretty easy. There was definitely a little bit more fluff than I expected. The first half of the course ended up being a rundown of urban history--and while I do find that pretty interesting, it was nothing that I couldn't have acquired from reading a good book or even a series of thorough wikipedia articles. Sometimes her lectures felt like very good high school history lectures in that they largely presented a series of simple dates, names, and events, and I often found myself reverting to my high school note-taking method--passive listening that was largely sufficient to get all the information needed. The second half of the course was much more in depth and satisfying. It felt like a good survey of recent urban issues and concluded with an interesting and current note on contemporary cities and the future. Professor Davidson provides ample supplementary material to the syllabus, often from that day's issue of the Times, and is genuinely enthusiastic about students' feedback. That said, it still wasn't very challenging. I didn't strictly need this class for my poli sci major, but am very interested in everything urban. This class kind of met my expectations, mainly the second half. But sometimes I wonder if I could have better used that spot to explore another concentration or something. If you're looking for a great, mind-blowing academic experience for an elective, this class is comparatively meh. Certainly not bad, though. If you're in the American subfield, this is an easy and painless class that's generally interesting. It's also a class where if you put a lot in, you can learn a lot; you could also easily find yourself coasting and not learn as much as you felt you could/should have. Kathy is a good TA, super nice and good at guiding discussions.

Jan 2012

Professor Davidson is a great professor. She gives great notes which basically summarizes the lonnnggg readings. In addition, she gives extra credit papers which can be very helpful. The class itself was fairly interesting and a great class for a poli sci or urban studies major. The reading increased as the semester progressed but her lectures usually cover the readings fairly well. Grading largely depends on TAs. Some TAs are more competent than others and give more feedbacks on papers.

Jan 2011

Professor Davidson is a mostly engaging professor who has a passion for her course material and her students. She approaches the broad topic of American Urban Politics by organizing her syllabus chronologically, and then discussing certain reoccurring themes. Pretty much material she presents is all very interesting, and her assignments are, to paraphrase her, meant to engage you intellectually and conceptually and not function as busywork. Bad things about her class are that lectures can be pretty boring and/or repetitive as, yes, Professor Davidson does often regurgitate the reading (including whole quotes at times), which can be good in moderation but not to excess. This is not to say that reviewing the assigned reading is all bad, as she knows well that many people cannot keep up with reading and that not discussing homework can make the class seem disjointed. It's just that Professor Davidson probably reviews too much. At the very least, she definitely relies on crutch words (e.g. um, uh) a lot. Also, the course has a rather transparent "liberal/leftward" bent. It would have been nice to incorporate a few opposing viewpoints that present, say, arguments *for* reduced federal help to cities. I'm not sure if legitimate research on such a viewpoint exists, but since Professor Davidson and one's textbook are constantly ragging on conservatives, if you're totally allergic to liberal politics, this course is not for you. All in all, I'd take this class if you have a decent interest in a broad overview of US cities and their role in economic development and politics.

Jan 2011

Take American Urban Politics. Seriously. JUST DO IT. The class changed everything I've ever thought about anything. I've changed my major to urban studies because of it. Flora is wonderful--the sweetest, most understanding professor I've encountered in the past three years. The mandatory discussions sections really complement the class material nicely. Flora interweaves current events into the class subject matter nicely. Her knowledge about NYC politics and development is particularly intriguing. Flora makes herself very available to her students. All in all, a wonderful experience.

Dec 2010

I really like Prof. Davidson. I'll admit that the criticisms below are pretty true, but other than that, she is very kind and well-meaning. She is clearly very passionate about urban politics, and she often incorporates articles about current events that are fun to hear about. Her lectures can be a bit dry since she basically regurgitates the textbook, but that means you don't have to read the book on your own (really, you don't!). I'd say that there are two ways to do well in this class. The first, which is what I did, is go to class, skim the textbook every couple of weeks, and do the supplementary readings that aren't discussed in as much depth during her lectures. Go to your discussion sections, say one or two things, and work hard on the take-home midterm and book review. That's one way. The other way is to hardly ever go to class (though you do have to go to discussion section), but keep up with reading the textbook/articles on your own. Some students already acquainted with urban politics did this, and I'd say it was just as effective. It's really not hard to do well in this class. I don't really know what an easy A class is (I'm convinced none exists at Columbia), but my hunch tells me that this is close to it. Enjoy how sweet and non-threatening Prof. Davidson and her TAs are. If you're looking for more than that, you can try to challenge yourself here, but I'm sure there are many other classes that would be better for you.

Nov 2009

THIS IS THE MOST BORING CLASS WITH THE MOST BORING PROFESSOR. Every single day, when I went to class I'd sit and think "It was such a mistake to get out of my bed for this." Professor Davidson is the most infuriatingly boring professor I have ever taken a class with. She reads straight from the book (count the number of times per class she says "don't worry, don't write this down, it's straight from the book..."), takes long pauses, speaks very slowly, and constantly falls behind the syllabus. It didn't help that the entire class was uninspired and lethargic, of course, but she injected no energy into the classroom. The actual course is interesting, with a lot of fun facts about New York. I urge you to take this class with someone else however. While Davidson is obviously very interested in the material (frequently offering extra credit opportunities to encourage her students to go out into the city and experience things), she doesn't seem to care for her undergrads. She loves her TAs but is cold towards the students actually taking her class.

Sep 2009

I'd also have to disagree with the first review. I came into urban politics as a New York history buff and this class expanded my interests so much more - so much so that I considered changing my major to urban studies. The class itself isn't hard, nor are the readings. this class isn't designed to stump you or be a GPA breaker. As long as you go to class and listen, you can do well. It was always a pleasure to go to class, what with Prof. Davidson's anecdotes about Chester, Pennsylvania and the Georgia rail project. Prof. Davidson's passion in the subject is obvious and it's contagious. Recitation sessions were nearly always full of lively discussions (the exceptions came during midterm season when some students hadn't quite caught up with the readings.)

Sep 2009

I have to disagree with the above review. I found this class very enlightening regarding American Urban Politics. The textbook we used was very easy to read and interesting, especially if you're a fan of American history. And Professor Davidson was helpful in highlighting the important aspects of all the readings. The class was also a nice balance of assigned readings and current events, which we often discussed as a class. As for the workload, it really isn't much - very standard for a social science class. The readings are manageable and the two take home essays for the midterm are very short - 4 pages. The key to doing well on them is to outline the topics based on all the relevant readings, write the essay, and then take out the lesser important facts (it is difficult to squeeze so much into 4 pages, but not impossible!). Finally, there is a book review. Honestly, if you do the readings on time and come to class, there is no reason you shouldn't do well on the exams and the class as a whole.

Aug 2009

I entered American Urban politics with high hopes. Urban politics had always been a topic of interest to me, and I wanted to explore it a bit. Unfortunately, I took the class with Flora Davidson. At first, Flora seems like a genuinely nice person. She always tells the class "not to worry" about things and tries to deliver funny quips. But she's just a terrible lecturer, who reads directly from the book (and quickly, so as to prevent you from taking accurate notes) without providing much additional insight. She manages to reduce something as dynamic as the urban environment to a bore-you-to-tears drone. Her midterm was a take-home, and is graded harshly. Very few got an A- or above, with the average grade around B/B-. The book review is vague, but she's more generous with the grading... I think the average was a B+. The final is lengthy and tests you on the obscurities of the reading, and is graded harshly as well. If you're looking for an easy A/A-, this is not the class for you. If you are truly interested in urban politics, give it a shot. I just hope a terribly b**chy professor doesn't ruin it for you.

Jan 2007

Take this class. I was resisting the class from the moment Russell started talking but I came to enjoy it anyway. Professor Russell's lectures are very tangential & make no sense & she comes off as very arrogant. However, outside of class, she is one of the nicest & most caring professors I have ever had. I was able to talk to her several times about my research paper & she actually seemed interested & willing to help. She even came up to me one day before class & asked me how it was going. The workload is very doable. The reading is the lightest of any polsci class I have had and you can easily do it all right before the midterm paper & final exam. The midterm is a little annoying because it is 2 5 page essays on the reading that she expects back in a week after handing them out. However, I had no problem getting it done while working on them on & off for 2 weekdays in between stuff for other classes. The paper is no big deal: 7-10 pages of research on anything you want that has anything to do with the class. You have plenty of room to be creative. The final seemed very intimidating because of the study sheet that had about 100 random terms that usually did not come from the lectures (even though Russell swore they all did) & often garnered only a passing mention in the reading if that. However, the exam did not seem to be taken from this list for the most part & you can do well just by coming to lecture & going through your notes. There is a voluntary discussion section, but don't go. The TAs were totally worthless. They came from unrelated departments & did not seem to have a grasp on the material themselves. If you have any questions/problems, it is definitely much more worthwhile to go to Professor Russell (especially on the paper) & she is more than willing to help.

Jan 2006

Her lectures are AWFUL and boring. That said, she requires attendance at them but if you have a friend to check your name off the list my advice is to not go. Her guest speakers, for the most part were very interesting and she tested on them so you should go to those. The course material itself was very intersting if you like cities and/or politics. Although you could probably get away without reading most, or all, of it doing it probably made studying for the final easier, and it was generally pretty good.

Jan 2006

Oy, Jude. She's a very nice woman, but honestly, one of the worst lecturers I have ever listened to (especially at 9:10 in the morning). She will flounder for the right word, take a breather to collect her thoughts, and eventually spit out a sentence that has no point or makes very little sense. Granted, from the readings I did and from the few decent lectures/guest speakers we had, I learned a fair amount. The material even dares to be interesting on several occasions. Overall, I'm glad I took the class, but I can't say that I could reccomend a bi-weekly, hour and fifteen minute battle to stay awake.

Dec 2005

Uggh! She is the worst. The class drags on at 9:10 in the morning and she is crazy about the mandatory attendance. You will come into the class, listen to the first lecture, and think it will be great. But then, about two lectures in the class will take a turn for the worse and by the end will become one of the worst classes you have ever taken. The workload is absolutely ridiculous for a 3 credit class. About 7 million pages of reading, a take home midterm which will consume your entire fall/spring break, a 10 page research paper, and a final which will take the entire 3 hours and of which you will not stop writing for even one second. The worst is the review sheet she sends for the final-it is composed of about 150 terms that are so entirely broad they include things like 9/11 and New Orleans-not that we ever learned about most of this stuff in class but hey if its on the review sheet she can ask anything she wants about it on the final. Like I said- avoid this class at all costs!

Mar 2005

The course is interesting enough, and should be taken by anyone with an interest in post WWI America. It's by no means an out of the park poli sci class, but it's pretty good and always interesting. On the other hand, Prof Russell is a gem. Smart, kind and caring, she was willing and eager to help students in any way outside of class. Some students would joke that they'd go into her office hours for paper advice and come out with job recommendations. For me, Professor Russell has filled the void left by Columbia's non existant advising system, and if there were more profs like her, this school would be a much better place. You should take her course, but if you can't, you should stop in an pick the brain of a remarkable woman.

Jan 2005

Professor Russell is a great professor. I was hesitant to take this course because of previous reviews, however I was pleasantly surprised. She does have her faults: occasionally readings were a bit much, and she digressed during lectures, but these are minor overall. Professor Russell clearly cares about her students, which is rare at Columbia. She knew all of us, and went out of her way to help us on papers and to study. She always responded to emails or met students in her office. She brought 4 great guest lecturers to the class for us. She even arranged a tour of the shelter system for interested students after having a class which included the politics surrounding homelessness and housing. Finally, grading is fair; if you work hard, you will do well.

Dec 2004

After reading the other reviews of Professor Russell, I was scared to take this class, but signed up anyway to fill my urban studies requirement. Maybe it's just me, or maybe she's changed a lot, but I found most of the comments from other reviewers invalid. She did admit to us that she changed the syllabus this year and that there was a lot less reading, which was certainly true. I did the reading before the take home midterm (also a change from the in-class midterm previously) and before the final exam and did well on both. Also, a lot of the reading is repetitive, so you don't have to do all of it. As for her lecturing, she seemed to be fairly organized, although she does go off on tangents. The speakers she brings in are amazing and she plans to have them all at the end of the semester, so you don't have any assignments at that point. Overall, she knows her stuff and makes it as easy as possible to do well in her class, for example, the TAs informed us that our best grade would be the most heavily weighted. Take this class if you're an urban studies major; it's an easy A.

Nov 2004

Although some of the lectures can be a bit all over the place, she is very open to suggestions comments participation etc...In other words the more you participate the better it is. The reading is excellent and you don't have to do all of it. Overall she is very approachable and some of the previous reviews simply don't do her justice!

Dec 2003

Russell is a brilliant professor but she often goes on tangents in class and stutters alot. She is extremely helpful in office hours. Her TAs are very limited (English-wise) and the TA sections are of little value. The grading is mostly fair

Dec 2003

Professor Russell is a brilliant, well-read woman who should have stuck to writing (she mentioned her recently completed book at least once a class). Her lectures are full of useful and interesting information, a fact which you will discover weeks later while re-reading your notes in an attempt to figure out what the heck she was talking about in time for the midterm or final. She often jumped between the planned topic, and something to do with the 1960s (her specialty) and she talked so quickly that I often had trouble writing down even her main points (a lap top is a useful tool in this class). However, despite all the negative aspects of Professor Russell's teaching, I learned a whole lot. If you are an urban studies major, or thinking about being an urban studies major, this class is a really great broad overview. It's true that I had to work MUCH harder than I should have to learn as much as I did, and I would definitely recommend taking the class with another professor if it's ever offered. Until then though, if you are willing to work hard (and deal with a mediocre professor) this class might just be worth while.

Dec 2003

. . . and I agree. No need to repeat the rant. Just don't take this class.

Dec 2003

My advice? Don't take this course. Not only is Prof. Russell insanely disorganized in her lectures (which she also gives far too quickly for note-taking), but the class isn't even about Urban Politics as a whole. Rather, it's about, as she says about ten times a day in class, the urban poor and "how they benefit" (which, is, apparently, her area of expertice). An interesting topic, but not the proposed one of the course. The copious reading is rarely incorporated or alluded to in the lectures at all, and the lectures themselves are beyond biased in political leanings; be aware that in papers and exams, you'd better agree with the Professor's take on things. Also, this course was the first one I've ever taken in which a professor directly told students that they were not allowed to directly email her, but were required to get in touch with the TA's first; talk about making oneself conspicuously inaccessible to students. And the class isn't even that big! Prof. Russell seems harmless enough, but her course somehow manages to cover too much material and yet remain highly repetitive in its themes and focus.

Dec 2003

I have mixed feelings about the course. THe subject matter is very interesting, but it could have been taught by a better professor. Although it is obvious that Prof. Russell knows what she is talking about, and often knows someone connected to it, she is very unorganized. Her lectures were painful to sit through, she frequently went off on tangents and rarely had any organization of the material. I found the readings to be far too numerous, and not always appropriate. If it was not for one of the TAs I would have been completely lost in the class. He was very helpful and guided me through her mass of confusion. If you have patience, then go for it!

Nov 2003

I have mixed feelings about this class. First of all, if you are an urban studies major you should definitely take this course...but no one said it was going to be fun. Judith is clearly knowledgeable about her subject area and has a lot of real-world experience, but I found her lectures almost unbearable. She may say "um" eight times per sentence and go off on a tangent in mid-sentence, leaving you confused as to what was the main idea. I spent more than $200 on the books for this class (there were about 11 of them) and some of them were barely used throughout the semester. On the first day of class she mentioned how she takes it as a "personal insult" if students do not show up for class, and an attendance sheet is circulated every day. I also resent how she tells the class day after day to be on time, has the TAs e-mail us with requests to be on time, etc. get the point. Expect to be frustrated. However, I did learn plenty about urban affairs. Judith knows her stuff. She also brought in some awesome speakers, which was a treat.

Nov 2003

Prof. Russel, despite being very knowledgable and interested in teaching, is by far the worst lecturer I've ever encoutered at Columbia. There is absolutely no structure to anything she says, so you can't really take good notes and you leave the class more confused than you came in. "Ugh" is the most commonly used phrase and her statements don't even describe events in chronological order. The readings are overwhelming, but more importantly it isn't clear which ones you'll be responsible for and which ones you can skim. I can understand why she wants to have an attendance sheet going around because no one would show up to her class if they had a choice. The TAs were definitely helpful but for those of us that want to go to lectures, read what we have to, and understand what's going on, we were totally screwed. By far the most unintelligible and irritating class I've ever taken. She is so disorganized and demands so much reading, half of which is totally redundant, that her class ultimately turned into a 9 am nightmare twice a week. I can't urge you enough to STAY AWAY FROM THIS CLASS, it will ruin the poli-sci department for you.

Nov 2003

Professor Russell is incredibly intelligent; you can deduce this from everything from her anecdotal comments to her knowledge of articles/books/authors/scholars from days gone by. Her skill in and passion for this subject area are truly inspiring, and the subject matter of the class is interesting indeed. However, Prof. Russell's intellect doesn't necessarily translate into lecturing skills...her lectures are full of "uhms" and "uhs" and if a student gets her off topic she might stay off topic for quite a while. They're worth attending mostly b/c she doesn't regurgitate the readings so it's mostly new material...and from time to time very interesting speakers come in. The work isn't ridiculous....midterm, final, one ten page paper...but you get an attendance grade (for a 9am class, I suppose I understand)...readings are mandatory-and there are many- but all of them interesting, and the TAs were amazingly helpful.

Nov 2003

Professor Russel cannot lecture for s**t. Her notes aren't an outline, just 2 pages of solid words that make sense to no one but her. Taking notes is a nightmare because of all the tangents and lack of organization, and I have a lot of trouble not falling asleep in the middle of taking notes at 9:10 in the morning. And she says "um" way more than should be humanly possible. The discussion sections are also awkward and silent, and not that productive. However! I still love this class, against all reason - I think the subject matter is incredible. So if you have a realy passion for urban issues and learning about them, it's worth getting through, but if not, you'll hate this class and want to throw your really expensive books at her everyday. And one-on-one she's a very nice person, and brilliant - one of the most well-read people I've ever met. She knows her s**t.

Mar 2003

If you're interested in urban affairs, this is a solid course. If you're not into it, you'll have difficulty staying awake. No matter; Professor Minnite has a great deal of expertise in the subject area, and brings in plenty of engaging guest speakers, particularly for a 9 am class. Her lectures vary from interesting to less so, but the guests make up for it, and she is singlehandedly the most approachable person on the entire campus.

Dec 2002

Minnite brought in great, fun, challenging guest speakers who are the experts and practitioners in their fields. Her lectures, while dull at times, were clear and well organized. Yes, she assigns tons of reading, but it's not all necessary. Learn the game and you won't be reading more than an article a week. She's brilliant.