*After a stint in Qatar, professor James Reardon-Anderson is back and taking the School of Foreign Service by storm. He has recently been mentioned in conversations all over campus because of the [changes he has made to the syllabus of the SFS core class, Map of the Modern World](http://www.thehoya.com/news/sfs-approves-changes-map-course-syllabus/).

Understandably, I was anxious to meet Reardon-Anderson and discuss his ideas and experiences with him, but his refusal to shake my hand was not out of arrogance – as it turned out, he was simply trying to do his part to prevent the spread of germs. Reardon-Anderson truly embodies the Georgetown motto of cura personalis with his scope of knowledge, progressive ideas and care for the individual student.*

**If you had three words to describe Georgetown, what would they be?**

Outstanding undergraduate education.

**What attracted you to Georgetown following your long history at Columbia University?**

I taught first at [the] Johns Hopkins [University], and then I was librarian at Columbia, then I came to Georgetown in 1985. I have taken some leaves [of absence] to go and do other things, but I’ve been here since 1985. I came because this is what I want to do. This is a great university, and I was to teach and do research – and it was a great opportunity.

**Is the student body as a whole similar or different in terms of work ethic and personality at Georgetown’s Qatar campus in comparison to its D.C. campus? **

I would say the students in Washington and Qatar are in some ways fundamentally similar and [in] some ways different. In the ways they are similar, I would say they share a commitment to the study of international affairs, because this is SFS in Qatar. They have the qualifications – meaning academic talent, commitment and track record to do a Georgetown degree and in those ways they are similar.

They are different, however, in that the students in Qatar are almost all from that region and, generally speaking, their academic background is not as competitive as the American academic background. Most of the students that come to SFS Qatar, when they take the SAT, it’s the first time they have taken a test like that. They don’t have [a] test like that, and some of them have never heard of the SAT. They walk into the room for the first time and sit down with the bubble sheet and, they are trying to figure out what this test is. Most of the students that are coming to Georgetown have been doing this since the third grade; they have taken SAT prep courses, they have had the PSAT, and they are skilled test takers in the basic form of the test.

**Do they still graduate at the same academic level as Georgetown students in D.C.?**

The students we have sent to the main campus were quite nervous about whether or not they could cut it. The five students that came here all raised their GPAs while they were here and two had 4.0s. So at least that sample of students discovered and reported back that they could perform better here than they did in Qatar.

The students that have come from the main campus to Qatar have told me that the academics in Qatar were tougher, and the reasons might be that the classes are much smaller in Qatar and the learning experience is much more intense. That’s a small sample to go on, and I’m not a student, so I can only report secondhand what I have seen and been told.

**Do you miss anything about Qatar, and how do you like being back in D.C.?**

I miss immensely the job I had in Qatar; it was the most exciting professional engagement I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve had jobs all over the world, but with this one we had a challenge to build Georgetown University, but build it in a different environment. This proved to be an exciting and interesting proposition.

On the other hand, I really love this campus and I am really happy to be back here. I also wanted to be back and reconnect with my family.

**What are you teaching this year?**

I am teaching Map of the Modern World, which I also taught in Qatar, and a freshman Pro Seminar.

**How does Map of the Modern World’s format in Qatar compare to its format in D.C.?**

The format is now the same in Qatar and D.C. with the new format. The chief change in the course that I developed in Qatar and now will have here looks much more at physical geography and the facts of climate, topography and how those things affect human and political behavior.

**In the syllabus for Map of the Modern World, it says weekly quizzes are not graded, but students who get perfect scores will be lavishly rewarded – to the envy of their classmates. What does this mean?**

I generally pass out little prizes every week to whoever got a 100 [percent] on the quiz, and mostly it’s a joke . it allows the students who are actually doing the quizzes and getting all the questions right to be recognized.

**How did working in Qatar affect the Jesuit style of teaching in a region that’s three-quarters Islamic?**

Well, that’s a good question. I would say we did not change the Georgetown curriculum to accommodate the religious identities of the students involved. Problem of God is not about instruction in a particular religion; it is about exploration of the concept of whatever’s out there – whether it’s God, the supernatural or the meaning of life. That approach to things is very much appreciated by the students in Qatar, who include a large number of the students who take Islamic faith very seriously.

The idea that we take the religious experience very seriously was actually very attractive to them, and they consider it a reason to come to Georgetown, and one of the main rewards of studying there. We presented them with the same challenges and concepts, and they discussed it, debated, and made their own decisions the same way students do here.

**Many students argue that [Map of the Modern World] really can kill their other finals because it requires a ton of studying. Can this be considered the organic chemistry of the SFS, serving to weed out the students who are not serious about the curriculum?**

I don’t know if it’s the weeding-out class, but it is certainly a class that requires something that has been lost in almost all of western education – and that is the memorization function. Something people have forgotten is the foundation of intellectual activity. What people used their minds for first is memorization. We have almost completely abandoned it, though – there is almost no memorization left in academic institution . people are asked to do critical analysis rather than memorize poems. I think memorization has real value, and so students have to memorize countries, capitals, geographic [phenomena], mountains, and rivers.

The second part of the course is about geography, which has been somewhat neglected in education. I mean, Americans are notoriously ignorant about the map of the world, and it’s necessary to know this. Knowing these things requires hard work and time, but there’s also an intellectual and conceptual part of the course. It understands how the physical environment has affected human behavior, and that was a lost topic not only in American education, but the whole of the academic enterprise for the [last] half a century. When I was at Columbia and [the University of] Michigan, they closed the academic environment. It has made a comeback recently because of environmental concerns, and this course will give students an opportunity to think about how human experience is affected by physical concerns.

**What sort of impact would you like to make on the SFS as a whole now that you’re back?**

I think the challenge for Georgetown in the years ahead is to maintain an outstanding academic program at an affordable price – that’s a big challenge for Georgetown because of all the economic changes. My commitment to the academic program here is to make sure that it remains high quality and affordable.

**When will we hear about who the official dean of the SFS is?**

There’s a search committee that [has] now begun the process and it will take til about next spring. Probably around March or April, the president will select the next dean.

**Are you worried about swine flu affecting students’ final exams?**

I was very much worried because, as you know, if you get the flu during exams it has a huge impact. We’ve been gathering data and being very careful, and three weeks ago we had 18 cases in that week reported, and this week I am pleased to report we are down to 12 to 14 cases. We’re trying to track carefully about what is happening to our students, and I care a lot about it.

**What are three words you would use to describe the typical Georgetown student?**

Bright, committed and ambitious.

**If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive, who would it be?**

I don’t know if having dinner with a dead person would be very interesting, but if you mean if I could have dinner with a person while they were living, I would have dinner with Jesus. I think he is the most interesting person in history.

*- Interview by Kate Kauffman*

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