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Ari Kohen, a professor of political science and the director of the Norman & Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies, looks to educate students through both teaching and hands-on experience.

Kohen, who joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2007, focuses his teaching on political theory, human rights, ethic and intrastate conflict and restorative and transitional justice. In the summer of 2020, he said he took over the role of director after Jean Cahan, a senior lecturer in philosophy and former director of the Harris Center, stepped away from the role, one which she held for more than two decades. 

“The role of director kind of opened up when professor Cahan decided she was ready for a break,” he said. “I applied to take over as the director and I was ultimately selected by the dean.”

Prior to becoming the director of the center and a professor, Kohen said, he wrote his Ph.D dissertation on human rights theory and received his Ph.D from Duke University in 2004. His interest in that area is what attracted him to a teaching position at Nebraska. 

“I always tell people ‘I went away to college and I had such a great experience, I decided I never wanted to leave’,” he said. 

Kohen also has a strong social media presence, with over 9,000 Twitter followers, and has even made national headlines. Back in 2018, Kohen liked a Facebook post that mocked Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry. This led to Fortenberry’s chief of staff reaching out to university officials and directly to Kohen. 

Recently, Kohen also tweeted about comments made by people who were comparing COVID-19 related restrictions to Nazi Germany at the most recent NU Board of Regents meeting

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and people can believe whatever they want and people should feel free to make whatever statements they feel are important,” Kohen said. “But we also need to couple that with a real educational program. We need to teach people so that they know what they’re talking about.” 

Kohen said he loves that he still learns new things every day from reading and talking to people. One of the things he’s enjoyed so much about UNL is that students are willing to express their opinions while still getting along in the classroom. 

“He is certainly a wonderful person and obviously very talented in his political theory work,” Cahan said. “He really is a terrific teacher.” 

In addition to his teaching and role in the Harris Center, Kohen said he is getting ready to lead a group of students on a trip to Israel for the summer of 2022.

Previously, Kohen and Cahan co-led a group of students on a trip to Israel to gauge students' interest in the trip and Kohen felt it was a great turnout. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for the trip had to be delayed for a variety of reasons, but Kohen said he has just received the green light to do this trip next summer. While the details of it are still being ironed out, he said he feels that this trip is like no other. 

“I don't think that there's any kind of program that replicates this because there's no city like Jerusalem,” he said. 

Despite the occasionally frosty social media presence, Cahan said that Kohen is a very thoughtful, engaging and accomplished person. 

“He just has a tremendous amount of energy and warmth, a great deal of personal warmth that he brings to everything that he does,” she said. 

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