Noam Chomsky to Teach Politics Course In Spring
During the spring semester, students of all ages will have the opportunity to learn about and discuss politics with one of the premier intellectuals of our time.

By Lori Harwood, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Nov. 21, 2016


Noam Chomsky teaching a linguistics course at the UA in 2015. Chomsky challenges students to keep up with his knowledge of history and research.
Noam Chomsky teaching a linguistics course at the UA in 2015. Chomsky challenges students to keep up with his knowledge of history and research. (Photo: Colin Prenger)

World-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, one of the most cited scholars in modern history, is starting to be a familiar face on the University of Arizona campus.

For three out of the last four years, the professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has visited the UA to give sold-out lectures. Chomsky's most recent visit was for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' "Conversation on Privacy," held in March with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. The two-hour talk has been viewed by more than 300,000 people.

Chomsky's stay in 2017 will be his longest yet. While at the UA, he will co-teach a general education course for UA undergraduates, POL 150C2: "What is Politics?" This general education course for UA undergraduates is a three-unit offering with both online and in-person elements, and will meet for seven weeks from Jan. 12 to March 2 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The course is co-taught with Marv Waterstone, UA emeritus professor in the School of Geography and Development.

"Chomsky's talks at the UA have been tremendously popular," said John Paul Jones, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "We thought that students might want a deeper engagement with him, so we asked him if he wanted to teach a class at the UA and he enthusiastically said yes. We also wanted to make room in the class for members of the Humanities Seminars Program, the average age of which is post-retirement."

For the first time ever, the UA has made it possible to co-convene a regular course with an offering of the Humanities Seminars Program, thus providing an opportunity for community members to learn alongside first- and second-year UA students. Connecting students from multiple generations and political outlooks, this course is sure to stimulate ideas, debate and dialogue. The course also includes an Honors section, in which Honors students will participate in small-group weekly discussion led by Chomsky. The Humanities Seminar Program course and honors section are full, though undergraduate seats are still available.

Jones said he is excited about the possibilities of convening an undergraduate class at the same time as a seminar.

"It's potentially the best learning experience that either group will ever have, both because of the instructors and the cross-generational aspect," Jones said.

Malcolm Compitello, director of the Humanities Seminars Program, said the course Chomsky and Waterstone will co-teach fulfills so many of the program's missions: "first, high-quality teaching with one of America's great scholars and intellectuals; second, community outreach across generations and town-gown borders; and third, challenging content in its exploration of America's political, economic and social achievements and failures."

The course examines industrial state capitalism as the dominant organizing principle of our economy. Students will consider the consequences of this orientation, such as climate change, social inequality, potential nuclear terrorism, and the expansion of militarism and warfare. Students also will investigate the achievements and difficulties involved with agitating for progressive change.

Students taking the course should look forward to a unique experience.

"After attending the talk between Chomsky, Greenwald, and Snowden last year, I became fascinated by Chomsky and his perspectives on both security and linguistics," said Julea Lipiz, a UA senior studying political science and molecular and cellular biology.

"The ability to study what politics actually is from a person who is known worldwide for their work in both politics and psychology is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Lipiz said. "I knew that if I didn't take this course, I would deeply regret it."

In addition to the seminar, Chomsky will teach graduate seminars in linguistics.

Chomsky's connections to the UA are deep and long-standing. Several UA linguistics faculty were his students or departmental fellows at MIT.

Widely considered to be the father of modern linguistics, Chomsky is credited with revolutionizing the field of linguistics by introducing the Chomsky hierarchy, generative grammar and the concept of a universal grammar. He has debated the likes of B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget and Michel Foucault.

Chomsky, the author of more than 100 books including "Who Rules the World?," also is famous for his political commentary. Over the years, he has published numerous books and lectured widely on U.S. foreign policy, Mideast politics, terrorism, democratic society and war.

His fame has even seeped into popular culture. Called the "Elvis of academia" by rock star Bono, Chomsky has been "interviewed" by Ali G, referenced in TV shows such as the "Gilmore Girls" and landed on coffee mugs and T-shirts.

Chomsky's visit to the UA is supported by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Humanities Seminars Program, the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, the College of Education, the Graduate and Professional Student Council, the Honors College, the Department of Linguistics, the Institute of the Environment and the Office of Inclusive Excellence.

Extra info

For students, seats are still available for POL 150C2: "What is Politics?"


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Lori Harwood

UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences