April 28-May 4, 2000
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Waldner instills basics of critical thinking

David Waldner has become one of the most popular professors in the Department of Government and Foreign Affairs not by coddling his students, but by challenging them.

David Waldner
Stephanie Gross
David Waldner

"David has a reputation as a difficult grader," wrote colleague John Echeverri-Gent. "His syllabi are renowned for being among the most demanding at the University. ...The norm for David's 500-level seminars is 300 pages of reading and a weekly written assignment to which he responds with detailed written comments. David drives himself hard as a teacher. He challenges his students to achieve high standards. They rise to the occasion."

Despite the academic rigor, students give him high marks and advise their peers to register for his classes. One student, David Wilkinson, wrote, "If Professor Waldner taught a class about dirt, I have every confidence that the class would fill rapidly."

Waldner takes a multidisciplinary approach to his classes, assigning reading not just on his specialties, comparative politics and international relations, but also texts that shed light on those topics from sociology, history, anthropology, economics and philosophy. His lectures challenge students to think for themselves, to critique the theories of scholars and come up with their own.

"I, along with many fellow students, believed I had no basis for criticizing professional scholars and professors for their views depicted in political science literature," wrote third-year Echols Scholar David Mrazik. "By the second day of class, Professor Waldner had almost the entire class offering suggestions, criticisms, and opinions about the reading."

Waldner has taught 10 different courses in his 10 semesters at U.Va., and plans two more new courses in 2000-01. But he hopes students come away from all of them with one important piece of knowledge.

"All the courses I teach, regardless of their substantive content, are but platforms for urging my students to be relentlessly critical of all received wisdom at all times, and for supplying them with the tools they need to pursue that goal effectively. I believe that the intellectual fundaments students learn will stay with them, even as the factual content of the courses fades from their memories over time."

-- Dan Heuchert


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