The Impact 9/11 Had on Higher Education

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 left a lasting impact on the lives of Americans and influenced teachings at higher education institutions. As the country observes the tenth anniversary of the attacks, The Education Insider takes a look at some of the changes that occurred on college and university campuses as a result of the attacks.

By Jessica Lyons


Watching What You Say

In his paper 'Academic Freedom in America After 9/11,' John K. Wilson raises problems professors faced because of being harshly judged over comments made about the attacks or because they tried using it as a teaching tool. Those who brought the events up in class or expressed opinions that were critical or unpopular risked being labeled as unpatriotic. As an example, Williams explained that 'after 9/11, efforts to teach tolerance of Muslims and Arabs were sometimes denounced as appeasing terrorists.'

The Impact on Teaching Approaches

Just as some professors found themselves having to watch what they said, others found themselves watching what they taught. For instance, following the events of September 11, 2001, chemistry professors Mark A. Benvenuto and Matthew J. Mio of the University of Detroit Mercy wrote that chemistry 'faculty members seem to be censoring themselves.' They explained that, although the idea of blowing things up had been used as a way to attract non-science students and make classes fun and interesting, teachers shied away from using explosion demonstrations in classes after the attacks.

Educators also had to learn how they could teach 9/11 to their students. UCLA political science professor Marc Trachtenberg helps guide other professors in teaching about 9/11 through his course 'The World After 9/11.' The teaching method he highlights using shows professors how 'to suspend political judgments in the classroom and focus on students' critical thinking skills.'

New Classes Added

A major event such as the September 11 terrorist attack isn't something that can be ignored when it comes to teaching, and many colleges and universities have added classes that incorporate the subject into their curriculums. For instance, the University of Minnesota offers the undergraduate class 'The United States Since September 11,' which is designed to examine how the attack transformed the country's culture, society and perceptions of other past events. At Eastern Michigan University, related courses have been added that look at Al Qaeda and terrorist recruiting methods, the analysis of computer images and information obtained from computer hard drives, criminal rights and racial profiling.

Differences in Degree Offerings

Just as classes were added to focus on what happened, degree program offerings were also sometimes changed to meet the new interests students had afterwards. Witnessing the attack and its aftermath made some students want to get involved in protecting their country, which could be why there was a dramatic increase in homeland security programs in the years that followed. According to the magazine Slate, as of March 2008, an additional 200 degree or certificate programs that focused on homeland security had been developed at higher education institutions. Additionally, the magazine reported that 144 terrorism-focused emergency management programs had also been introduced.

Those aren't the only kinds of degree programs to be added. For example, at John Hopkins University students can now earn a Master of Arts in Government Security Studies. Also tailored to meet the interests of post-9/11 students, this degree program examines what the country's security is like now that it has been the target of the terrorist attacks.

In addition to major events impacting higher education, there have also been campus events that have shaped history.

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