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Penn State defends assignment asking students to ‘explain why the Taliban is not a terrorist organization’

A Pennsylvania State University spokesman is defending a recent homework assignment that made headlines for asking students to “explain why the Taliban is not a terrorist organization.”

“Penn State does not align with such violent groups whose values are so disparate from ours,” said Bill Hessert, the director of strategic communications at Penn State.

But the assignment has been misunderstood, he told The College Fix via email.

“This class, which is part of the political science major and can be used for the homeland security minor, was developed to understand and analyze world views,” he said.

The online “Politics of Terrorism” class is taught by Professor Christopher Cook.

Hessert said that Cook’s stance is that the Taliban is “a horrible and vicious group that has committed atrocities” — but it has not been classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

The Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list currently only identifies Pakistan’s Tehrik-e Taliban as a terrorist group. No other Taliban group is on the department’s list.

The purpose of the assignment was to use the State Department’s definition of terrorism and not to make any political statements, Hessert told The Fix.

The essay prompt had stated in full: “In one page, explain why the Taliban is have not [sic] and are still not a terrorist organization.”

“You are not allowed to answer this question in any other way,” the assignment added. “Any attempt to avoid the answering this prompt as written; or trying to argue otherwise will result in a failing grade. If you have any questions on the pedagogy behind this assignment — please contact me.”

“Remember to try and use the readings and definitions from this lesson to support your paper, not your feelings on the issue.”

The assignment came to light in mid-January when it was tweeted by student Kylie Stone with the statement “Welcome to college in 2022.” She did not respond to a request from The College Fix seeking comment.

In a Fox News interview, Stone called the assignment “completely unacceptable.”

“I’ve had assignments in which they ask me to argue both sides, I love doing that kind of stuff. I think it’s beneficial to every student — but that’s not what this assignment was,” she said.

Stone, a senior, transferred out of the class, Fox News reported.

According to a tweet from Professor Cook reported on by Turning Point USA, the scholar stated on the social media platform on Jan. 2 that the assignment is legitimate.

“I am going to guess there is a Venn Diagram between the people who struggled understanding why the Taliban were not terrorists for the [last] 20 years and those who think there can be justified violence against the American government,” the professor tweeted.

MORE: Students instructed to write essay on 9/11 from terrorists’ perspective

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Corey Kendig is student at Grove City College studying political science and history. He is the school’s Young America’s Foundation president and an editor for the school’s law journal.