Focus on Faculty
Jeffrey Berejikian, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, wants students to understand the role that effective foreign policy can play in resolving contemporary global problems.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from the University of Oregon. I am a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, where I teach and research in the field of foreign policy. After eight years as graduate coordinator for the department of international affairs, I stepped down and moved over to manage our (more than 800 student) undergraduate program.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2001. At the time, I was an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee. I was looking to move to a better university with a more dynamic program in my field. The prospect of creating a School of Public and International Affairs was very appealing, and I wanted to be part of the faculty that UGA was assembling. Every day I come to work I’m happy that I made the move.
What are your favorite courses and why?
Wow. It’s hard to choose. Graduate seminars are always challenging, and I enjoy them because they provide an opportunity for me to learn from my students. I also run an undergraduate foreign policy simulation where students govern countries in real time on a computer gaming network. It’s a freewheeling, sometimes raucous, classroom. There is lots of shouting and negotiating and chaos. Every session is unique; it’s fun to see the students learn while having fun.
What interests you about your field?
My research focuses on foreign policy decision-making. It's increasingly interdisciplinary and so there is always something new that we can learn. But more fundamentally, foreign policy is simply important. Indeed, if you think about contemporary global problems—nuclear proliferation, global warming, political instability and violence, etc.—it’s hard for me to imagine a more important and dynamic field of inquiry. If such problems are to be resolved, it will be through effective foreign policy.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
It’s very special every time a former student reaches out with an email or phone call in order to share news of some achievement or success. Being honored with the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Meigs Award was also very gratifying.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My guess is that it’s a bit easier initially to bring research into a classroom where students expect it—biology or chemistry, for example. However, students often arrive in foreign policy class thinking that we are going to debate politics. So the initial challenge at the undergraduate level is to make students see that our understanding of the field is not political or ideological, but scientific. I teach to the scientific debates rather than emphasizing individual “competing perspectives.” Because I focus on decision-making, and because human decision-making is universal, it’s actually pretty easy to find examples that students can relate to and understand intuitively. Once these are in place, shifting to foreign policy decision-making is much easier.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
First and foremost is an appreciation of the importance of science in the study of human behavior and its potential to inform a better, more democratic politics. Students have become numb and distrustful of the partisan babble and clatter that confronts them in the media. An important personal goal is to show them that science can lance the partisan boil infecting the contemporary democratic condition.
Describe your ideal student.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
North Campus is beautiful, so anywhere on campus with coffee is fine. But, honestly, being in front of a class is my favorite thing. It’s exhilarating. If I can combine the two then it’s a near-perfect day.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Fly fish, cycle and cook.
My favorite book is “Dune.” It’s a great combination of science fiction and deep insight into politics. For the movie question, it’s a tie between “Pulp Fiction” and “The Maltese Falcon.” They are obviously very different movies in many ways, but the underlying theme is the same. A fundamentally good guy confronted with impossible alternatives makes bad decisions, and then decides to change. In different ways they are both about human redemption.
Proudest moment at UGA?
That’s easy: Bringing my parents to the Meigs Award ceremony. My father was a high school teacher, and I wanted him to see how I had continued in his profession. Also, watching my 73-year-old mom walk up to President Adams and start rambling on about what a wonderful son she has. Dr. Adams was very gracious when confronted with a hurricane of motherly pride emanating from a woman he’s never met.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The clay urn on my desk that reads “Ashes of Problem Students” is actually filled with loose change.
(Originally published on March 24, 2013)