Head of the class

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In the mind of Nicholas Dungey, CSUN political science professor, everything extremely partisan people do makes perfect sense, even when such behavior smacks of racism or socialism.

Rather than describe certain public policies and proposals in upbeat or derogatory terms, Dungey, 39, said that all he perceives is a noble human endeavor.

“Partisanship is the most beautiful expression of humankind,” Dungey said. “They are intense because they think they have the truth. They honestly believe they have reality figured out.”

While other political science courses identify which influential factors produce events of political relevance, Dungey’s postmodern political theory focuses on how a person’s preconceived notion of reality determines how they interpret those events.

As far as Dungey is concerned, any class that sheds light on the mystery of consciousness and encourages students to examine how they define reality is just as important as discussing the Iraq War or illegal immigration.

“Humans are philosophers who don’t need a university course to ponder the meaning of life,” said the charismatic professor, now in his fourth year of teaching at CSUN.

This semester Dungey’s political science classes are Modern Western Political Theory, Great Questions in Politics and a graduate level seminar in political theory.

Mehran Kamrava, former chair of the Political Science Department, said Dungey is a great teacher.

“One of the primary goals at the university is to encourage critical thinking,” said Kamrava, who now chairs the Anthropology Department but continues to teach political science courses.

“(Professor Dungey) has amazing command of the subject, has managed to revitalize (political) theory and energize the students,” he said.

“I wish everyone could be like that.”

Dorna Basiratmand clearly remembers being one of many students peering into Dungey’s class while waiting for it to finish and empty out before the next instructor’s class started.

“I think they were all singing,” said the political science major.

Basiratmand said she also worked with Dungey in his capacity as department internship coordinator and noted how he always made himself available to students.

“I sometimes feel like (Dungey) is one of the students,” Basiratmand said.

As president of CSUN’s Political Science Student Association last year, Basiratmand presented Dungey with the PSSA’s first-ever faculty award for enthusiasm and passion. The award – one of four categories that evaluated different criteria – was the result of ballots that allowed political science students to vote for their favorite department instructors.

“He won hands down,” she said. “He brings the material to life.”

Justin Carvalho, senior political science major, said not only does Dungey present the material in a charismatic way, but more importantly, he does not impose his personal beliefs on students.

“I recommend his class to everyone,” Carvalho said. “You don’t have to be a political science major.”

Senior Brett Ralston would agree, but sleep deprived students or loyal idealists should be forewarned.

“What he taught us was to look at different perspectives that are outside the mainstream in politics and literature,” said Ralston, a political science major as well as a member of the Daily Sundial editorial board.

“(Dungey) doesn’t lecture like in a normal class, and he likes everyone to be involved. You won’t find people sleeping in class.”

Dungey’s rapid-fire delivery and self-deprecating sense of humor aside, it’s his mind that keeps students coming back for more.

Sipping a cup of coffee outside the Sierra Center, Dungey had a lot of postmodern thoughts on the current United State’s political environment.

“Before we debate illegal immigration, the Iraq War, or minimum wage laws, we better understand who we are and how those ideas became meaningful. Philosophy is about wanting to understand how to live well. But then we stupidly define ‘well’ as material things.”

With American politics being packaged and sold no differently from jeans or toothpaste, Dungey said, the population has become more susceptible to ideas that are purposely fashioned to fuse a person’s self-worth with the conventional definition of reality.

Since everyone operates under the assumption that they know the truth, extreme partisanship must therefore be considered a very natural human thing, he said.

“If we can change the way we interpret who we are, we might be able to change how we relate to each other,” Dungey said. “Unless there’s a fundamental change in consciousness and how we relate to the planet, (mankind) won’t see another 500 years.”

Los Angeles, one of the world’s most ethnically diverse urban area, is a classic example of an emerging postmodern metropolis and evidence we are witnessing the end of a national ethnic identity, he said.

“It’s a great example of how human society and consciousness is changing to a shared context,” Dungey said. “People from all over the world are contributing to the richness and strength of the community.

Changing how humans interact with their environment is crucial because postmodernists believe the current economic and political system, which dominates nature and people, is no longer sustainable, Dungey said.

Dungey said students in his class can expect to analyze preconceptions of who they are, as well as challenge certain assumptions about ownership of body and property that often are presented as absolute truth in America.

In order to create a setting where people feel comfortable, Dungey said he doesn’t tolerate malicious remarks by students in his classroom. The purpose of the university, he said, is to help people better themselves and become worthwhile to society.

“I love what I do. My job is to work with ideas and people,” said Dungey. “Talking about stuff that’s happening in the head. That’s what makes class so fun.”

Julio Morales can be reached at features@sundial.csun.edu.