Michael Cairo

Professor of Political Science

“Critical thinking breaks down barriers and liberates the individual from conventional thinking.”

To Michael Cairo, learning is a two-way street. It is not, he says, “about the professor telling the students what to think. It’s about engaging in a discussion of important issues and learning a variety of ways to investigate and examine these issues.”

“I am a believer in active and experiential learning,” adds Cairo, professor of political science who also contributes to the international affairs major and minor programs. “Effective education requires engaging the students and giving them a stake in the learning process.”

Inside the classroom, Cairo clearly practices what he preaches. Because he is enthusiastic about learning himself, he believes his students are likewise enthusiastic learners. “As a result, I work to maintain a very energetic classroom,” he says.

Outside the classroom is no different. In fact, engaging students in important research topics beyond classroom walls is what Cairo enjoys most about teaching. “Good teachers need to be involved in research and need to involve their students in research,” he says. “Getting students excited about research cultivates in them a desire to investigate important questions.”

That philosophy fits well in Transylvania’s political science program, which Cairo says is particularly rigorous. “We hold our students to high standards and, as a result, they are very successful. Many of my classes incorporate graduate-level work and encourage students to excel beyond their own expectations.”

This meshes well with the liberal arts approach at Transylvania. “A liberal arts education frees the mind. Aristotle said that it is ‘the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ Liberal arts is about the big questions and critically evaluating them.”

In addition to his work with students, Cairo’s first book, about the two presidents Bush, was published in 2012. John Robert Greene of Cazenovia College calls the book “a thoughtful, critical, impeccably researched, and engagingly written study of the foreign policy of the TWO Bushes. In this first joint-study of Bush 41 and Bush 43, Cairo deftly uses both a wide selection of the available literature as well as newly opened material from the Bush papers, to show how these two men defined the policy of a generation.”

On the air

Cairo has been a guest on numerous radio and television programs as a panelist or political affairs expert, including the following:

  • Global Connections,” Global Connections TV with Bill Miller, “The Current Situation between Israelis and Palestinians,” Feb. 2, 2021.
  • Global Connections,” Global Connections TV with Bill Miller, “The Current Situation in the Middle East,” Jan. 2, 2019.
  • Global Connections,” Global Connections TV with Bill Miller, Topic: How the volatility in Syria, Iraq, and Israel affects the rest of the world, July 28, 2014
  • Eastern Standard,” WEKU-FM 88.9, “”Why we should care about ISIS in Iraq,” June 26, 2014
  • Kentucky Tonight,” Kentucky Educational Television (KET), Topic: Foreign Policy, May 27, 2013
  • Global Connections,” Global Connections Television on United Nations Web TV, Topic: The Middle East, Jan. 28, 2013
  • Kentucky Tonight,” KET, Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security, July 23, 2012

Academic History

Ph.D., University of Virginia, 1999
M.A., University of Virginia, 1994
B.A., S.U.N.Y. College at Geneseo, 1992

Courses Taught at Transy

Politics of the Middle East
Politics of Europe and Russia
International Politics
International Law
U.S. Foreign Policy
Arab-Israeli Conflict
Human Rights

Professional Memberships

International Studies Association
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations
United Nations Association of the United States of America

Areas of Research

U.S. foreign policy
U.S.-Middle East relations


Gerald R. Ford Foundation Presidential Grant, 2015
Bingham Award for Excellence in Teaching (2020-2025)
Aspen Wye Faculty Fellow, Wye Faculty Seminar, Citizenship in the American and Global Polity, The Aspen Institute, July 2016

Recent Publications

American Presidents and Israeli Settlements since 1967. Studies in U.S. Foreign Policy series. New York/London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, forthcoming.

The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East. University Press of Kentucky Series in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace, 2012.

George W. Bush Declares a War on Terror, January 29, 2002.” In Voices and Visions: A collaboratively built primary source reader for U.S. foreign relations. November 2018.

“Al Qaeda,” “George W. Bush,” and “War on Terror.” In Dictionary of American History, Supplement: America in the World, 1776 to the Present. Ed. Edward J. Blum. Farmington Hills, MI: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 2016.

“The Vice Presidency of George H.W. Bush”, in A Companion to Ronald Reagan, ed. Andrew L. Johns (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).

“Consigliere: James Baker and the Gulf War” in Diplomats at War: The American Experience, Andrew Stewart and J. Simon Rofe, editors. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Republic of Letters Publishing BV, 2013.