NYU professor asks students to formulate own terrorist attacks

November 19, 2012

A former U.S. Navy intelligence officer and professor of transnational security at NYU received attention from the media regarding terrorism for an assignment she gave
her students.

Marie-Helen Maras, an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs, teaches a class on transnational terrorism for graduate students in CGA’s transnational security program.

This semester, Maras tasked students with a hands-on assignment: Students were required to plan and analyze a hypothetical terrorist attack from the perspective of a specific terrorist group. In the assignment, students were asked to explain everything from their selected group’s motives to the number of operatives needed to complete the attack as well as how the target government would react.

CGA’s dean Vera Jelinek, who spoke on Maras’ behalf, said the purpose of the class is to give students a holistic understanding of terrorism so they can more effectively enact policies and methods to counter terrorist group actions.

“The assignment fits in to the purpose of the course, and legitimately adds to the students’ understanding of terrorism,” Jelinek said.

“With a practical order like this, you cannot just study it theoretically,” she added. “Like any case study, you have to look at it practically.”

Jelinek said students were required to write disclaimers — on every page of their assignment — that noted how the assignment was hypothetical and intended for classroom use only.

Before coming to NYU, Maras served about seven years in the Navy and supervised more than 130 countersurveillance operations throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Jelinek said Maras’ assignment offers practical education for students interested in counterterrorism, citing that her students include members of the military and law enforcement.

But some members of the New York Police Department said they do not see the educational value of such an assignment.

“This flies in the face of the 11 years of hard work the NYPD has done in tracking down terrorists to the far reaches of the globe to make sure they never strike again,” a NYPD office told the New York Post.

However, Stuart Gottlieb, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and teacher of counterterrorism and international security, said Maras’ assignment is an important way to teach the subject of terrorism. Gottlieb added that he uses similar methods.

“We need to understand stuff from [the terrorists’] perspective if we are to make any headway,” he said.

Kevin Chen, a CAS sophomore, said he understands the sensitivity of the issue but that the context of the class is important.

“I can understand that viewpoint, but at the same time I would err on the side of the teacher’s judgment rather than assuming what’s going on,” Chen said. “Maybe, in the context of the class, it is different from
hearing in passing.”

 A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Kevin Burns is a staff writer. Email him at university@nyunews.com.
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