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International Affairs Program

Report from Jean Garrison, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wyoming
May 2002

Outcomes Assessment for International Affairs Program
Seminar on the Post Cold War World
University of Colorado-Boulder

In this assessment I will comment on the analysis, reasoning skills, the ability to frame and sustain an argument, and the use of data in the term papers for this Capstone Seminar. As I do this analysis, I will also comment on the students' familiarity with contemporary themes in international affairs and compare them with other undergraduates in the discipline. As such this is a discussion of how I would evaluate (or grade) these assignments primarily based on the content and organization/logic of the argument provided.

I will begin with some general comments about the assignment itself.

  1. First, there seems to be three distinct paper assignment/options here - making the comparison in quality more difficult. There were several descriptive research papers that primarily used historical analysis to make the case, some pure literature review papers that addressed a broad question or problem in international affairs, and some prescriptive analysis papers. To greater/lesser degrees students related their papers to contemporary themes in international politics (some assignments made this easier than others). It should be noted that the papers that used historical analysis had a different task than those that proved more prescriptive. There were good and poor examples of papers in each of these three categories. The different types of papers I observe may reflect the particular assignments of 3 different instructors. To my mind, if there are three different options for papers, you may want to integrate aspects of using conceptual literature, historical analysis, and prescription into each assignment (with a different emphasis in each perhaps).
  2. Overall each paper at least tries to meet the criteria of the assignment (as outlined to me above). No single paper is completely unacceptable - just well or poorly done. Even the poor papers represent reasonable topics, but ones that are sloppy in their presentation. The categories for my verbal labels of Excellent, Good, Fair/Poor, and Poor/Unacceptable are roughly equivalent to grades ranging from A through D.
  3. .
  4. The use of sources is uneven across these papers. Many do not take into account the type of sources they are using and many made choices arbitrarily. Four is a minimal number for an assignment like this (and to me very minimal), but this may be the basic requirement for this paper assignment. If this is the case the instructors may want to tighten the requirements on the sources (by assigning more or perhaps limiting the number of internet sources). The papers are very uneven in this regard. While the number of sources was not a direct measure of quality for me, it helped most papers to use sources from the scholarly literature because they provided a fuller range of factors to make their case. Some papers made up for this by using comparative cases in their analysis. Many of the poorer papers rely heavily on the internet and do not have a balanced bibliography.
  5. Length: For some papers 10-11 pages was not sufficient for students to accomplish what they set out to accomplish. Many could spend more time developing their analysis or their discussion of the implications for their paper. The historical/descriptive papers were often weak on the discussion of implications while the prescriptive papers did not spend enough time in analysis that would set up their prescriptions.

Here is how I categorized these essays: 8 - excellent; 8 - good; 5 - fair/poor; 3 - poor/unacceptable.

  1. The excellent papers generally put their analysis in IR terms immediately. For example, one paper immediately discusses the geopolitical instability of the post-Cold War context and how this affects the Baltic states. There are clear research questions or puzzles provided at the beginning and the way cases are discussed clearly help the authors make their case. They do not simply present a case and leave it for the reader to make the linkages. These are well-organized papers with discussions that reflect a thoughtful and clear analysis.
  2. The good papers reflect many of the characteristics listed above but do not necessarily succeed in making all the linkages clear in their analysis. They have clear goals and take IR concepts into account but not as effectively as the excellent papers. They often provide a model for comparison that strengthens their case.
  3. The fair/poor papers have potential that is unrealized in their analysis. The argument is not sustained throughout the paper. Appropriate questions are posed but the analysis does not necessarily address the questions posed.
  4. The poor/unacceptable papers show a lot of confusion. In one case, emotional advocacy is no replacement for analysis.

A brief analysis or description for each paper is listed below. These are the points that I made note of as I read these papers.

  1. Excellent
    1. NATO Expansion and the Baltic States - put in IR terms immediately; discusses geopolitical instability of post-Cold War context; better scholarly sources and used in this analysis
      • progression of analysis makes analytical sense
    2. Overpopulation - premise to look at effects of overpopulation on environment and sustainability; uses case studies of China and India to illustrate differences in problem and responses
      • well argued and extensive section on solutions
    3. Great Game Players: Geopolitics of the Caspian Sea
      1. premise of Great Power game in Central Asia b/c of resources
      2. analysis of relationships; easy topic but clearly done and good use of appropriate supporting data
    4. Economic Interdependence and Its Effect on Conflict
      1. The question the authors address is very clear; they explain why they choose the articles they do
      2. Well-balanced conceptual discussion; well-written; basically a literature review; the only problem for my review - there were missing pages and some were out of order
    5. Vladimir Putin: Progressive Leader to Russia's Future?
      1. Clear question posed: will he be an effective leader
      2. balanced analysis that shows Russia's possible future; very prescriptive but has enough analysis to support the prescriptions
      3. balanced sources
    6. Development in the PRC: Path to Democracy
      1. uses modernization theory as a tool to evaluate democratic prospects for China; evaluates appropriateness of other models of development
      2. nice paper with use of appropriate data and conceptual basis for analysis; most well-balanced in these terms
    7. Aids in Africa: Various Perspectives
      1. compares impact of AIDS in terms of society, economic, government of progressive examples of Uganda and Senegal to South Africa
      2. well-written and thorough analysis; not conceptual
    8. Literature Review on Military Budget and Social Welfare
      1. excellent comparison of various authors in the literature review as well as their areas of agreement and disagreement
      2. this seems a safe topic but one that is done well within the confines of what the author(s) say they will do
      3. only 5 sources used
  2. Good
    1. Should the ABM Treaty be Scrapped for a Missile Defense or Should the US remain a Part of the Treaty?
      1. premise to provide a point/counterpoint argument - solid sources and each discusses the important major points
      2. takes international context and IR concepts into account
    2. Reforming Agricultural Policy of European Union
      1. premise: EU slow to change its protectionist Common Agricultural Policy and this has led to major financial problems
      2. more prescriptive than most papers and provides strong model of New Zealand to illustrate the road the EU "should" pursue
      3. international context is downplayed but this is a much more thorough paper and well researched than others
      4. they provide an interesting model for comparison
    3. Ukraine, NATO and Russia: Prespcriptions for the Future
      1. presents Ukraine as deciding factor in future of East-West relations
      2. presents serious discussion of options and uses this as a basis for prescriptions for future of Ukraine
      3. either/or nature of the choice is somewhat problematic and prescriptions pushed a bit too far, but this is overcome by thorough discussion
    4. Organized Crime in Russia - seeks to understand organized crime in Russia and the impact it has had on Russia
      1. discusses different types of organized crime
      2. links discussion to Russian security
      3. well written and more thorough than most
      4. answers the questions posed and makes a decent attempt to link to IR
    5. The World's Largest Refugee Crisis: Afghanistan
      1. purpose to explore plight of Afghanistan's refugees and response of Iran and Pakistan to 20 year crisis
      2. purely descriptive paper but well done
      3. implications for the international community briefly discussed at the end - this could be expanded
    6. A Rose by Any Other Name: Plight of Colombian Flower Workers
      1. description of plight of flower workers and uses comparison of Mexmode experience as a way to address the Colombian workers
      2. problem - no international context provided (i.e., discussion of interdependence or globalization and the debate over labor unions)
      3. strength - admits that there are problems with Mexican comparison but offers a road map to improvements - does not try to stretch the example too far
    7. Literature Review on Rwandan Situation
      1. Discusses opportunity for Rwanda to develop into a democratic developed nation; focusing on what inhibits Rwanda's democratic progress such as colonial legacy, political legitimacy, economic development and agrarian reform
      2. Paints a complex picture of factors but does not make the link to the initial question of democracy clear in many places in the paper
      3. Overall, logical argument but needs to make the linkages more clear
    8. Democratic Peace: Dove or Dud?
      1. literature review of the democratic peace hypothesis
      2. stronger source list for the review than other literature reviews in this set; the author had more to grapple with and although rough in places does point the important points to discuss
      3. separation into the believers and the detractors makes a simple dichotomy that does not allow the author to explore areas of similarity/dissimilarly among the "camps" they describe
  3. Fair/Poor - Has potential but not fully formed
    1. Nationalism and Soviet Successor States - purpose to discuss how to create national identity and discusses it as a process that develops over time; uses cases to show difficulty in 3 cases; tries to show why some have national identity and others do not
      1. good try at setting up a comparative case analysis but leaves the reader to make all of the linkages; could have discussed implications of their data much more fully
      2. strength is the attempt to use ethnic vs civic national identity in successor states; history of cases, and link between nationalism and economic stagnation or deprivation
      3. interesting study but weak conclusions, uneven cases and no discussion of larger implications for IR; leaves reader to make the linkages
    2. Caught in the Middle - Premise that Ukraine is caught between identities, cultures, and customs; East (LDC) vs West (developed)
      1. use of history is a positive but overall too simplistic an analysis
      2. multiple pages (5) from one source
    3. An Ailing Nation in Transition - Analytical Examination of the Declining Population of Russia
      1. Appropriate data is presented but purpose/relevance of the analysis to IR is unclear
      2. premise is that Russians are confused about their destination within the international system - the linkage between the authors discussion of Russia and this point are never made clear
      3. uses alcoholism and health care crisis to demonstrate problems in Russia
      4. very brief prescriptions about what Russia should do
    4. Ethnic Russians in Estonia
      1. premise: conflict between Estonians and ethnic Russians has hindered development (political, economic, and civic); purpose beyond description of situation unclear; discusses plight of Russians in Estonia
      2. in the text makes links to development and democracy but not set up with this question in mind
    5. Chechyna: A Stubborn War
      1. goal: explain how Chechen war is changing Russian public opinion
      2. author(s) present background information and make a decent effort to explain what has gone on
      3. they do not make there case and show no means to evaluate Russian public opinion; they assume that reports of Russian mothers illustrate Russian public opinion; must discuss Vladimir Putin directly
  4. Poor/Unacceptable
    1. Start and Russia's Nuclear Dilemma
      1. no set up or research questions to orient the reader; assumptions underlying their approach not discussed; logic of START not applied well and their discussion shows their confusion
      2. assumes that the nuclear balance of power is critical and still exists as means to organize world politics; assume that Russia will build nuclear weapons to fill quotas
      3. a brief paper that does not provide a comprehensive analysis
    2. Human Rights Violations in Russia and Chechnya
      1. premise to discuss human rights violations in Chechnyan conflict, both sides guilty of mass killings, etc; History of the conflict; Why is the conflict occurring?
      2. No discussion of IR concepts or reasoning for Russian involvement
      3. History of the conflict but not clear on scope of human rights abuses-not sufficient research into the specifics
      4. Makes big statements about lack of US response in the conclusion but nothing about the international context or constraints on external responses to this
      5. Not a sophisticated discussion and a brief paper that does not provide a comprehensive analysis
    3. The Future of US Hegemony
      1. premise to discuss the future for US hegemony
      2. needs to more fully analyze in what way the US is dominant and what will keep it there (only military hegemony discussed)
      3. author(s) admit that they randomly chose four articles and their discussion reflects confusion over the concepts (unilateralism vs multilateralism discussion especially) needed to discuss to thoroughly analyze the future of US hegemony and the implications of this

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Last revision 10/07/02


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