Experimenting with Progressive Alternatives

A class devoted to reinventing society, “Progressive Alternatives: Institutional Reconstruction Today” not only crosses intellectual boundaries, but also uses modern technology to allow college students from around the world to interact in real time.

Taught by Harvard Law School Professor Roberto M. Unger, the class includes live commentary from Columbia University professor Jeffrey D. Sachs ’76 and Sciences Po professor Laurence Tubiana in Paris, France.

Using video teleconferencing technology, instructors and students from all three institutions can engage in thoughtful discussion on “how to reimagine society,” Unger said.

During the first hour of the class, the three professors lecture and comment on the day’s topic of discussion via teleconferencing software.

“In the remaining one hour, students from all three campuses ask questions, and a discussion-based class is led by the professors,” said Alpkaan Celik ’15, a student in the course.

“Progressive Alternatives” is listed as a course at both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Over 65 students are enrolled in the class, half of whom are undergraduates.

Students and professors alike are prompted to question today’s definition of progressivism. Unger said that the course aims to “shake up dogmas and make what seems natural look strange.” Described by Unger as “a promise of intellectual liberalism,” the class encourages and challenges students to actively develop proposals for change.

As of now, this intercollegiate trade of ideas exists only between the classrooms of Unger, Sachs, and Tubiana.

“This is a limited experiment because we have colleagues who are still only in the North Atlantic area. We want to try to engage people in the major developing countries in the world,” Unger said.

In his own words, he hopes to encourage the “exchange of ideas with different parts of the world and different intellectual traditions.”

Ultimately, the course prompts students and professors alike to ask a fundamental question through unconventional means: as Unger puts it, “What should progressives stand for now?”

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