The [bombastic outrage]( swirling around the [tweaks and changes implemented in the Map of the Modern World syllabus]( is rooted in a love of tradition, but seems to reek more of ignorance and gut reaction than of sense and sensibility.

First, let me clear the air of any conflict of interest, history or any other nicety. I took Map of the Modern World as a freshman in the School of Foreign Service under professor Charles Pirtle in 2005, sat on the School of Foreign Service Curriculum Committee from 2004 to 2008 as a student representative, served as SFS Academic Council president from 2007 to 2008 and have worked at SFS-Qatar since 2008, acting as a teaching assistant for former SFS-Qatar Dean James Reardon-Anderson’s Map of the Modern World course in the process.

Indignation centers on what the [creators of the anti-new-Map-course movement]( call an all-but desecration of “a treasured Georgetown School of Foreign Service tradition.” Tradition? I wouldn’t be an SFS grad if I didn’t have the intellectual curiosity to wonder what that word means in this context. Former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) never took Map. Neither did former CIA Director and SFS professor George Tenet (SFS ’76). In fact, [Georgetown’s basketball dominance dates back longer]( than the course does, and we all know just how fluctuating that story is. But the founders of the Facebook group say that this “pillar” of a course should never change – actually, they contradict themselves in the next paragraph saying that it can change slightly, but I digress.

The protesters seem to believe that this course has never changed over the last 2,000 years or so; that the course never changed during the hand-over of power from Pirtle to Professor Keith Hrebenak. There is only one word that comes to mind here: false.

The fact of the matter is that any course is in perpetual motion within the mind of a single professor. Once you pass a course on to a new professor, this perpetual motion takes on a new dynamic. Substantial change to the course happened throughout the Pirtle era and substantial change happened during the handover of power to Hrebenak.

I’ve seen Reardon-Anderson’s version of Map in Qatar, and I don’t know where the concerned students are getting the notion that there will be “drastic changes to the curriculum and the `watering down’ of Map,” as the blurb on the Facebook group states. Reardon-Anderson’s proposed curriculum has the same political, “nationalist, ethnic, boundary and territorial” facets that Pirtle and Hrebenak’s courses had (see “human behavior” in the course description), but he has added to the class the “fundamental forces that shape the physical geography” and affect human actions.

And let’s not forget that Reardon-Anderson is no neophyte to teaching, scholarship and relevant experience. SFS faculty chair, chair of the Curriculum Committee, director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, director of Asian Studies, Sun Yat-sen Professor of Chinese Studies, dean of the SFS in Qatar, director of the Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service program – this isn’t someone who just changes syllabuses on whims.

For today’s Map of the Modern World, is it so unreasonable to have some physical geography injected into our understanding of political geography? The Maldive Islands are sinking. The agricultural ramifications of changing weather patterns and climate change in Africa, South America and Asia are staggering. Whole economies are shifting. No one can refute that the fundamental forces that shape the physical geography of this world have a distinct effect on human and political elements.

The tenor of this debate ranges from “change is bad” to “let students affect syllabi.” The question is whether or not either scenario is one that we truly want. As far as I can see, it seems this student movement is full of something similar to the Atlas Mountains’ effect on the Sahara – hot air.

Eric Lightfoot is a 2008 alumnus of the School of Foreign Service and a senior student affairs officer at SFS-Qatar.

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