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Columbia students call Hillary Clinton class huge disappointment

Felt like ‘late-night talk show’ audience, waited hours to ask questions

Hillary Clinton’s fall class at Columbia University felt more like being in a “late-night talk show” audience than a college course, one of many complaints from underwhelmed students, according to a Huffington Post op-ed published Sunday.

Clinton did not read students’ assignments, attend discussion sessions, or hold office hours, and students complained that their questions about controversial topics were avoided, according to the piece.

The column by student Cate Twining-Ward was headlined: “I Thought Taking A Class Taught By Hillary Clinton Would Be Empowering. I Was Wrong.” Twining-Ward expressed her disappointment about the class and interviewed a few of her peers, one of whom said, “I could have learned everything just from reading her memoir.”

The class, “Inside the Situation Room,” taught by Clinton and international relations Professor Keren Yarhi-Milo, focused on “how to analyze and understand the complex interplay between individual psychology, domestic politics, public opinion, bureaucracy, the international environment, and other factors which feed into decisions about foreign policy,” according to the course description.

But Twining-Ward said it “wasn’t really a class — it was a production.”

A filming crew recorded every class, and their equipment tear-down cut half an hour from every session, she wrote.

“Together in class and on tape, we acted much like an audience at a late-night talk show, distracted by the cameras and yet immersed in the vanity of the production,” Twining-Ward wrote. “We followed an unspoken script where we were both active and passive at once — expected to laugh at certain anecdotes, but not encouraged to raise our hands.”

Every week, students waited in line for hours for a coveted seat near the microphone, all for the chance to ask Clinton a question, she wrote, adding it became known as “the Hunger Games Q&A.”

Yet, when difficult topics came up, such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, “the discourse was often neutralized and students were referred to panels and events outside the lecture hall for answers,” she wrote.

What’s more, students had been told Clinton would spend the last day of class answering students’ questions, but two days before the final class, they learned most of the questions would be selected in advance, she wrote. One was: “What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song and why?”

Although students did enjoy listening to Clinton’s stories and hearing from other prominent guest speakers, Twining-Ward said she and others she talked with felt disappointed.

The class “made me question Columbia’s institutional priorities,” she wrote; the university seems to use “celebrity professors” like Clinton to “commodify their students, turning them into audience members and then often receding to the ivory tower when the conversation gets uncomfortable.”

Starting Feb. 6, 2024, the university plans to offer Clinton’s class videos through a platform called Columbia Plus, which Twining-Ward said sounds “more like a streaming service than a scholarly site.”

In response to the Huffington Post, Rachel Szala, associate dean for communications and external relations at Columbia, said they had a high demand for the course, and the videos will make it more accessible to a wider group of students.

Szala said Clinton and Yarhi-Milo “held open Q&A for at least 20 minutes at the end of each class” and students’ questions were not pre-screened.

“During the first class after Oct. 7, they offered twice as long as normal (40 minutes) for questions on the conflict or any other topic students wanted to discuss. And in the last class, Q&A was over an hour,” she said.

“Both Secretary Clinton and Dean Yarhi-Milo have been adamant about the need for difficult conversations that challenge individual assumptions, and this is part of what they modeled in class,” Szala told the Huffington Post.

MORE: Hillary Clinton named ‘presidential fellow’ by Columbia University

IMAGE: GregoryHauenstein/flickr

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.