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Unoccupied Classroom

January 13, 2012

Like protesters removed from Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been booted from Columbia University’s course listings.

An anthropology class, Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement, was to be taught this spring by a postdoctoral researcher who has blogged about the Occupy movement and attended protests in New York City and Oakland. Stories about the class appeared everywhere from the New York Post to Canada's Yahoo News to local TV stations across the U.S.

But a spokesman for the university said the course was never approved and shouldn’t have been listed on a department website. A similar class could be offered in the future, he said, if Columbia’s Committee on Instruction approves.

Hannah Appel, the researcher who was to teach the class to upperclassmen and graduate students, did not respond to a request for comment. But in a copy of the six-page syllabus obtained by The Daily Caller, Appel describes herself as “a regular participant in the Occupy movement” and outlines an ambitious course schedule involving “fieldwork in and around the Occupy movement.” The class, however, was designed to study the movement, not to join in the protests of the nation’s financial system and the so-called 1 percent. The syllabus said the class would "not participate in any direct actions” with the occupiers as part of its coursework.

Teaching a new undergraduate class at Columbia requires approval from the instruction committee, which uses a written proposal from both the instructor and sponsoring department to debate its merits. The proposal requires explanations of how the class fits into the larger undergraduate curriculum, a syllabus and a reading list.

That process – not the subject matter – is why the class won’t be taught, Columbia spokesman Brian F. Connolly said. “The study of contemporary political, economic and social issues is entirely appropriate and has a long history here,” he wrote in an e-mail to reporters. “But the fact is that the proposal for a new anthropology course involving fieldwork on this topic had yet to be considered for approval by the faculty Committee on Instruction.”

Elsewhere, professors and students are already studying the movement.

At New York University, undergraduates can take a class this spring from Professor Lisa Duggan that will include guest speakers from the Occupy movement and an analysis of the economic issues that sparked the protests.

At Suffolk University in Massachusetts, a class titled Rhetoric of Protest and Reform was under way last fall when the Occupy movement started. As the protests grew, a university news release said, the focus of the class shifted and students began contrasting the occupiers with previous generations of protesters.

And in Seattle, the Associated Press reported, community college instructors went to campsites to give lessons on the labor movement and civil rights abuses to Occupy protesters last fall.

But, for this term at least, that will have to wait at Columbia, despite the barrage of media coverage the proposed class generated.

“A course does not appear in the official directory of classes and cannot be offered in advance of required approvals,” wrote Columbia’s spokesman. “News reports and some departmental postings regarding the spring semester were premature.”

 

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