Prof Spotlight: Rock explains illuminating nature of politics

Professor Rock specializes in international politics. His courses focus on U.S. foreign policy, defense policy and arms control, the causes of war and peace, and just war theory. Courtesy of Buck Lewis/Vassar College.

[This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]

This week, we stopped by Rockefeller Hall to chat with Professor of Political Science Stephen Rock. A long-time Vassar faculty member with an extensive academic and administrative background, Rock offers an informed perspective rich with Vassar-specific and general life experience upon which students and colleagues alike can draw.

The Miscellany News: What courses are you teaching this year?

Stephen Rock: I’m teaching the introductory course in international politics and a senior seminar on the ethics of war piece, which is about Just war theory. And then in the spring I’m teaching a course on U.S. foreign policy.

The Misc: How long have you been teaching at Vassar?

Rock: Since 1987. This is my 33rd year, or 32nd, if I counted properly. That’s a long time. And I took a break from teaching for about fiveand-a-half years because I was acting Dean of the Faculty for a year, and then I was Associate Dean of the Faculty for two-and-a-half years, and then Acting Dean of the Faculty again for about another year. And then I spent a year on a paid sabbatical. The last time I taught regularly was the fall of 2012, so it’s actually very exciting for me to be back teaching regularly.

The Misc: How did you get interested in political science?

Rock: I got into political science when I went to college as an undergraduate because I thought I wanted to go to law school and I thought that was preparation for law school. At some point during my sophomore or junior year…I really decided that I love politics for the sake of politics and that’s what I wanted to study and I didn’t want to go to law school. I had a couple of faculty members as an undergraduate who I just thought were amazing teachers, but also it was clear that they really loved what they were doing. I thought, “Wow, I could be like that.” They were kind of role models for me in a way.

The Misc: It’s been five years since you last taught. How do you think that technology has changed the classroom?

Rock: When I first started here and the Internet didn’t exist, data that you might get in book form or in U.S. government document form was two or three years out of date by the time you got it. Now everything is really current, which makes a huge difference. And you can get access now to the things that you could never get access to before. Government documents from all around the world and newspapers and journals and magazines that are from everywhere, as well as think tanks … The proliferation of sources of information to which you can get electronic access has been fabulous.

The Misc: Are you currently doing any research?

Rock: I’m sort of in between projects. I finished the paper in the spring that was published in an online journal on evolving views of Christian intellectuals and church leaders regarding the nuclear weapons and nuclear war during the Cold War period. I’m not sure exactly where I’m headed next. I’m interested in generally religion and international relations and foreign policy … I got interested partly for [Just war theory] and partly because of the rise of the religious right in the United States. Of course, most of the religious right and its influence in policy has focused on things like same-sex marriage and abortion, which are domestic policy issues. But they’ve also had a profound influence on foreign policy, particularly foreign policy in the Middle East and American support for Israel, and in other areas as well that aren’t quite as widely recognized.

The Misc: What important lessons from international politics should we keep in mind as Vassar students or just as citizens?

Rock: I think at some level the most important lesson to keep in mind is to stay informed and to be active. While it’s hard as an individual to influence foreign policy in the same way that as far as to influence domestic policy, as groups of individuals, there’s a possibility for influence. This is one of the things I like about students… they haven’t become jaded in quite the same way as older people have. They recognize the possibilities of actually having an impact. It’s one of those things I really enjoy about teaching here. Students are fresh and they’re alive and it’s invigorating as a faculty member to work with students like that.

The Misc: What would you like Vassar to know about your life outside of Vassar? Rock: I’ve been married for 35 years. I have two children, one of whom was a member of the Vassar Class of 2013. The other, a daughter, was admitted to Vassar and would have been in the Class of 2016, but she decided she wanted to go elsewhere because she’d lived in Poughkeepsie her entire life. When I’m not doing my research or teaching or committee service, I like to do things that are non-intellectual. A few years ago I built a deck on my house, and I love to tinker. I’m an amateur bicycle mechanic, so I love to tinker with bicycles. When you are using your brain all the time, your brain gets tired, and when you want to relax, it helps to do [something] that’s not so taxing on the brain.

One Comment

  1. Glad to see Mr. Rock is back in the classroom! I took the first international politics class that he taught at Vassar, in the fall of ’87, and it still influences my thinking.

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