How 9/11 Changed Academic Programming at Syracuse University

(Re-published from The Daily Orange, Sept. 13, 2016) It started with a couple of law students sitting in back-office cubicles in the old law building.

It was after Syracuse University was no longer bracing itself during a period of grieving — phone lines were no longer jammed, blood no longer collected in droves, white ribbons no longer being made by hand to hang on dorm room doors.

It was after first-year law student Michael Vozzo gathered around television screens alongside his classmates in the lounge of the building to watch the financial heart of Lower Manhattan cave in on itself on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was one thing to realize it was a terrorist attack. It was another to suddenly watch the towers fall on television,” Vozzo said. “The whole day was frightening, but also motivating in wanting to get involved in this area of law.”

That common denominator of motivation reverberated throughout the realms of higher education — across students, between different fields of study and throughout institutions. It’s why enrollment within certain academic fields surged and led to prominent shifts in programming on a national basis after 9/11.

At SU, the years following the attacks saw the establishment of the Institute of National Security and Counterterrorism and the creation of a Middle Eastern Studies program, a catalyst in forging the option in 2005 to study Arabic language as a minor.

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks played a role in why Hannah Arterian, then dean of the College of Law, approached William Banks with the idea to head an unprecedented effort that led to the creation of INSCT.

When the two hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center, Banks was teaching national security law like he had been doing at SU since 1987. But when the lesson ended, the insistence for answers began.

Banks’ expertise in the fields of national security and counterterrorism — one characterized by international talks, authored textbooks and scholarly honors — branded him as the go-to expert for major media networks as more than 100 queries rolled in within the first few weeks following the attacks.

“There was a demand to have voices of reason and some knowledge and understanding in this chaos that we suddenly experienced on that date,” Banks said.

Banks’ informed takes on the security issues at hand caught Arterian’s attention before she became dean of the law school in July 2002. It caught her attention before she’d even met Banks.

While Arterian was being considered for the dean position, she came across some of Banks’ work that was published prior to 9/11. It jumped out at her immediately.

“The college had a professor who had been writing and teaching in this critical area for many years,” Arterian said in an email. “9/11 made it very obvious that his presence at the college was a tremendously important one.”

When Arterian proposed the creation of a national security institute, Banks said she didn’t have to ask twice.

As the idea spread, it evolved into a project that aimed to answer the post-9/11 questions burning on every young lawyer’s tongue: How do we go to war without a declaration? How do we fight a borderless entity? What are the rules of engagement?

It was the answers to those questions that law students like Brendan Gilbert wanted to find. Gilbert got involved with INSCT, which was then considered more of a think tank than an institute. He said it was made up of aspiring lawyers working in a back office on the second floor of the old law school, attracting like a magnet those whose interests were within the intersections of national security and counterterrorism in a post-9/11 academic world.

That attraction was not limited to law and security studies, and it transformed undergraduate and graduate curricula across the United States. The post-9/11 era saw the creation of undergraduate concentrations, graduate programs and special areas of study for students that either hadn’t existed or been popular before 9/11.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, the current chair of the political science department in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, had pushed for one of those programs at SU before the attacks.

“I used to mention to the higher-ups that we need to pay more attention to the Middle East. But nobody was taking me seriously — there was nothing happening,” Boroujerdi said. “Then 9/11 happened and all of a sudden there was an obsession with what had happened.”

When the shock of 9/11 generated a sudden interest in students wanting to learn more about the Middle East, Boroujerdi said leading political science departments lacked faculty who were experts on the region.

Because Boroujerdi had raised the idea before, the Middle Eastern Studies program soon became a source of study at SU as he and Ken Frieden, the chair of Judaic studies, worked to establish the minor. Once approved, Boroujerdi served as the founding director of the department from 2003-14. Arabic classes were introduced at SU in 2005 when the Middle Eastern Studies department determined that learning a language of a region is important to understanding the region.

“Because of the interest in the region, the interest in Arabic went through the roof and overtook Hebrew, which has been taught at this university for more than 100 years,” Boroujerdi said.

When Boroujerdi proposed the creation of a Middle Eastern Studies program, there was no one with expertise in the region in the language or history departments, and only one in the religion department and political science departments.

“In our case, 9/11 certainly had a major impact on our curriculum,” Boroujerdi said. “Because what we decided to offer was not only a minor, but a major and a graduate certificate in Middle Eastern Studies” …

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