Andrew and Claudia: Writer/Teachers…Teacher/Writers

Almost every time Andrew Hacker walks down a New York City street, people approach him and say some variant of, “Dr. Hacker, Dr. Hacker, I had you for Government 101 and you changed my life.”

This happens almost every day, certainly once a week.  That’s because political scientist Hacker, in 110 consecutive semesters has taught basic political theory, to thousands of students.  He did this for sixteen years at Cornell University and more recently at the Queens College of the City of New York, a public institution.

Many of his former students—Federal judges, cab-drivers, physicians, law school deans, State Senators, pharmaceutical saleswomen–claim him as the most memorable and interesting teacher they’ve studied with.  In fact, he often receives e-mails like this recent one:

Dear Professor Hacker: I was a student of yours in the honors program of Cornell’s Government Dept in 1965 and 1966. I went on to law school and a 35 year career in the law. Now retired, I have had the time recently to read some of the notebooks I kept during my various government courses at Cornell. I have been impressed with (a) how much I have forgotten and (b) how deep and rich my courses were. A department faculty that included, inter alia, yourself and Messrs. Bloom, Einaudi, Rossiter, Kahin and Berns was a real treat for the students. Very often you don’t know how good a situation is until its time has passed you by; the government department at Cornell was an exception – many of us knew how exciting it was while we were still undergrads.

Beyond his teaching, Andrew Hacker is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, where he often writes about issues in higher education. He has also authored numerous textbooks and nine trade books including the 1992 best-seller, “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal” widely hailed as one of the best American works about race.   “Few people writing today for a general audience can make more sense of numbers,” wrote the reviewer for the Wall Street Journal of that work. “…Hacker has long wielded figures as old masters wield red,yellow and blue…to create a telling portrait of American life.”

More than a decade ago, Hacker resigned his tenured full-professorship so that his department could hire two young professors with his senior salary.   He continues to teach however as an adjunct.

Dr. Hacker’s literary and life partner, Claudia Dreifus’ is best known as a journalist/interviewer, the producer of the “Conversation with…” feature that appears in the Tuesday Science Section of the New York Times. When, in 2006, Sigma Xi, the research honor society, awarded her an honorary membership,  their American Scientist magazine wrote of her:

As a journalist, educator and lecturer, Claudia Dreifus is widely recognized for her abilities in interviewing scientists and communicating the complexities of their work to the public. Before coming to the “Science Times” section of The New York Times, Dreifus was known for her incisive interviews with international political figures and cultural icons. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Playboy, Ms., The Progressive, AARP-The Magazine.  In her book, Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science from The New York Times, she delves into the thoughts and lives of some of the most intriguing minds in science. From Nobel laureates to virtually unknown innovators, across a multitude of scientific disciplines, she introduces and explains the personalities behind the great accomplishments. .. Dreifus has been a pioneering and original force in making science more accessible.

In Claudia’s academic life, she is an adjunct associate professor of international affairs and media at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.   During the 1990s, a period when public higher education was under sustained political attack, she taught in the Graduate Department of English at the City University of New York.

An e-mail last semester from an international student in one of her classes tells some of her pedagogic philosophy:

“We didn’t get a chance to talk a lot yesterday, but I just wanna thank you again for the wonderful teaching this semester…I’ll keep in mind what you told me about being brave as a journalist, reaching out to the outside world and being persistent.  That’s something I took away from the final project and it has transformed my mentality in much more than journalism.”

Claudia is also a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, a foreign policy think-tank headquartered in New York City, the publisher of the World Policy Journal.  There she maintains a special interest in the growth of women’s political participation, worldwide.

“Higher Education?” is Claudia’s sixth book, her first published collaboration.

This new book, “Higher Education?” is, very much, the end-product of both Claudia and Andrew’s lifetime commitment to teaching and reporting

Quirky Factoids About The Authors of“Higher Education?”

  • There is a character in Alison Lurie’s novel about the culture wars at Cornell in the 1960s, “The War Between The Tates.” based on Andrew Hacker.
  • Claudia Dreifus failed geometry four times in high school, perhaps the New York State record.  Today she interviews some of the world’s most revered mathematicians, proving that under the right circumstances, all concepts are learnable.
  • Though they’ve been a couple since 1999, Andrew and Claudia actually met during the 1960s.  They were both speakers in 1967 at a conference at Wayne State University on the future of the urban university.  The other speaker was Clark Kerr.
  • One of Andrew’s former graduate students, Edward Jay Epstein, wrote his master’s degree thesis on the Warren Commission Report.  The thesis became the 1966 best-seller, “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.”
  • Like many Americans, Claudia is the first member of her family to graduate from college—New York University.
  • Andrew attended Amherst, St. Andrews College in Scotland, Oxford and Princeton.
  • ‘Higher Education?” was written in eight drafts, with Claudia and Andrew producing separate sections and then passing them back and forth for revision.  Both authors feel that they now have the skills to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation.