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January 08, 2007


"But that's part of the problem: these articles not only require no thought at all, they are impossible to write if you do think. For if you actually stop to consider this question, you'd have to realize not only that the existence of ten courses that you find silly reveals nothing whatsoever, but that a course called "The Phallus" could actually be very interesting."

Very good. I have further comments on this quote, but I'm holding back. :)

"The problem that the Young America's Foundation list, first issued in 1995, highlights isn't simply blah. Example blah. Example fooblah.

The bigger problem is bleh."

I'm certainly seeing a problem teaching people to construct rhythmic sentences (" , ..., highlights isn't") and arguments.

Seb: I had a few puns and so forth, but deleted them all.

I did mean to say, though, that if one wants to moan about the state of higher education today, one could do worse than checking out Liberty University's Kinesiology Major. Here are the Core Courses (Ms. Allen complains about the decay of Core Curricula):

1 KINE 101 Physical Fitness
2+1 KINE 208/209 Motor Learning / Lab
1 KINE 225 Weight Training & Conditioning
1 KINE ___{210-240} Sport/Physical Activity Course
3 KINE 310 Physiology of Exercise
3 KINE 311 Analysis of Human Movement
3 KINE 320 Measurement & Evaluation
2+1 KINE 333/334 Adapted Physical Activity / Lab
3 HLTH 250 Human Nutrition
3 HLTH 216 Personal Health

Ms. Allen also quotes misleadingly out of context. She claims that the "Phallus" course is about "feminist and queer takings-on of the phallus," omitting the beginning of that sentence: "A survey of theories of the phallus from Freud and Lacan through".

I also note that she seems never to have heard of Richard II, Othello, The Tempest, or The Merchant of Venice (to name a few), since she finds it odd that a course would focus on "cultural anxieties over authority, race, colonialism and religion" during the age of the Bard."

My favorite version of this type of commentary was included in our Law School spoof, where the Registrar appeared as a fundamentalist preacher, giving advice on which courses would and would not send one's soul to damnation.

My favorite was his discussion of Antitrust -- "God is Love. And Love is Trust. So Antitrust is Anti-God."

This was all followed by him leading a chorus in a rendition of "Amazing Grades".

(More's the pity, say I -- I heard about penis envy when I was around seven, and found the very idea so bizarre that I had trouble taking Freud seriously ever again.)

Oh, you knows you wants it, baby!

...sorry. Couldn't resist. I blame the parents.

RF, maybe it's hard for people to write unawkwardly about organizations with names as awkward as "Young America's Foundation", especially when they stick an erroneous "the" in front of the name and make it sound even more like something constructed by a non-native speaker.

For equal-opportunity awkwardness in youth organization names, there's Young People For.

. . . I don't quite see what's necessarily laughable about the Kinesiology major. It's not a hollowed-out liberal arts degree, it's a jumped-up technician's degree. But it doesn't strike me as a particularly bad approach to training e.g. physical therapists.

Which, here at least, is exactly what a kinesiology major is for.

Dr. Science: what got me about the kinesiology program is that it's a major under Arts and Sciences (that's how I found it.)

Ah, "Sciences". Frankly, I'd rather keep company with Kinesiology than with Creation Studies, which curiously is listed on the Arts and Sciences page but has no link.

I can't tell if the Kinesiology program is one that is truly accredited, either, unlike the University as a whole. Shooting at non-accredited schools seems a bit over-easy, though.

Without defending Allen's silliness, I do have some concerns about curricula. I know the odd college student or two, (and some normal ones also), and they mostly seem, even as freshmen, to take classes with an awfully narrow focus.

What I often wonder about is whether the student really has the social and historical context to understand, for example, "Victorian Mores," one such class. I wonder too whether a grab bag of such coursework really leads to a coherent education, or just knowing something about a scattered bunch of topics.

Survey classes and distribution requirements may be old-fashioned, but I think they may have more value than is recognized these days.

(On another subject entirely, Mike Marshall, a fine relief pitcher in his day, famously had a Ph.D. in Kinesiology)

Bernard- survey classes are old-fashioned, but that does not mean that they are out-of-fashion. I am teaching one this quarter at one of those hollowed-out So Cal humanities departments. It's an intro to drama class, and the first two readings are Aristotle and Shakespeare. Today, 22 of 28 students in my class said that they had never read Aristotle prior to my class.

In 10 weeks I somehow manage to not only cover 5 canonical plays and their historical contexts and literary and cultural significance, but also cover discussions of gender and sexuality and teach the prospective majors how to close read a text. Students are required to take the survey classes before going on to take those goofy sounding upper division classes that usually require a lot of difficult, and not-very-fun readings.

I imagine that at some point in the class we will discuss many of the topics Ms. Allen mocks -- probably in the context of discussing Aphra Behn or Oscar Wilde and the vicissitudes of their literary reputations over the years.

Oh the frivolity.

Survey courses are alive and well. I have taught a whole bunch of them.

Journalists are simply getting ready for the possibility (fact?) that the MLA gabfest will be moving to January. These kind of stories are most closely associated with reporting about the MLA, and when they move the convention to January, reporters need to find another source for sneering at academics. Poring thru different college catalogues isn't as easy simply picking up the program for the MLA, so spare a thought at the extra work and possibility of paper cuts these enterprising warriors of the truth will have to face.

And some in So Cal, now that I think of it. Survey courses involving such trendy lightweights as Kant and even Malebranche...

nous, hilzoy,

Good to know.

Just out of curiosity, tell me, nous, what are your five canonical plays?

Heh. The bully that repeatedly beat me up in high school later earned a kinesiology degree from Liberty U. I hope he didn't improve his technique in KINE 311.

Now back to lurking...

Halfback option, wide out, strong sweep, quarterback draw, and a tight-end screen.

...what? There's no football thread.

Bernard- Hamlet, The Rover, An Ideal Husband, The Crucible, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

The Rover would likely not make it into a more academically conservative canon, but it has undergone a bit of a renaissance over the last few years and Behn's stock has risen substantially among critics.

An Ideal Husband is not the most canonical of Wilde's plays, but it fits well with The Crucible for discussions of politics, economics, and societal ethics (and The Crucible allows for a lot of historicism to unpack both the moment of representation and the moment of production).

Nous: Heh. For nine years, every year, I did:

Descartes, Meditations
Malebranche, various bits
Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Berkeley, Three Dialogues
Hume, Treatise of Human Nature
Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics

And, for good measure, the next term I normally taught:

Seneca, The Moral Letters
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Mill, Utilitarianism
Kant, Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals.

Then there were the other courses, involving more Kant, Rousseau, other Enlightenment folk ...

This is what happens when you let leftists into the academy.

And did I happen to mention that I don't do grade inflation? Shocking lack of standards.

I actually went to Oxy (BTW, Hilzoy, that is the approved abbreviation, not "Occi") Back In The Day. A very classic "core" curriculum then, centering on a multi-disciplinary 4-semester, 22-credit (!) course, required of all students, on "History of Civilization." I came to realize that it was actually a history of Western civilization - the rest of the world got very short (and belated) shrift - but taking that amendment into account, it was a hell of an experience, and I benefited from it greatly.

Time passed and the HoC course went The Way Of All Curricula, but I still keep in touch with Oxy, intermittently, over the years. So just yesterday when a fellow alum (who sang in the Glee Clubs with me way back then) asked for my comments on the same article, I responded, and take this opportunity to quote myself here, for the remainder of this post:

This is just the latest version of a fairly standard trope in right-wing
anti-intellectualism that's been around for a couple of decades. Whether
these particular courses are worthy or not is never actually examined.
They are simply mocked for their titles or course descriptions.

I daresay some may be lousy, but they are probably not nearly as devoid of
thoughtful content as the classic "rocks for jocks" or equivalent gut
courses at most universities, nor the quasi-religious free-market ideology
routinely pumped out by business schools, or dozens of other courses anyone
with common sense and no axe to grind could easily identify. There is
certainly no likelihood that these are the worst, or even among the worst,
courses offered by colleges and universities today.

What this represents is yet another sally effort to denigrate *any* analysis
of race, gender, and class in American (or any other) society. It's the
topic itself that offends those who generate such lists. Apparently they
believe that if no one asks questions about race, gender, and class, no one
will realize that wealthy white men are still running almost everything.

I'm not sure what is gained by circulating such tripe.

[dr ngo]
(Himself a wealthy white man - before he retired!)

Dagnabit. Close your italics, man!

Errrr... apparently that was deliberate. I shall slink off now, much like the Buckeyes.

The problem with a Kinesiology major isn't inherent to the subject. It's that Kinesiology is frequently a code word for "Keeping Athletes Eligible."

dr ngo, I noticed the right-wing slant of this article too, especially in the context of the curriculum wars waged in California (and elsewhere) between religious-right proponents of rote learning and the traitors who want to train students to critically inquire. Note that Ms. Allen wants students to learn "who Plato was or what happened at Appomatox," and not, say, what Plato taught and why the Union victory mattered. Perhaps I read too much into a throwaway line. Or perhaps not.

Descartes goes first, naturally.

Posted by: hilzoy | January 08, 2007 at 10:48 PM

That list with a sprinkling of Plato, Augustine and Thomas (how did they Christinize the Greeks!?)

That was the standard at Loyola-Marymount's Philosophy department.

Descartes goes first, naturally.

Why, what's the matter? Was somebody trying to put Horace before Descartes?


[Exit, pursued by ducks]

Errrr... apparently that was deliberate. I shall slink off now..

While dr ngo revises his will, no doubt.


Thanks. Very interesting. No Greek plays?

trilobite: ...I noticed the right-wing slant of this article too...

I take it this is the first some of you have been exposed to the musings of Ms Allen, formerly of Crisis Magazine and the (Scaife-funded, anti-feminist) Independent Women's Forum?

Hil & Doctor Science: you'll both absolutely love this, this and this

(Oh, and lib'rul Christians are killing their churches with TEH GHEY!!1)

Bernard- no time in the quarter system for any Greek plays. Give me six more weeks and I would add in Antigone and possibly Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer for historical coverage. With six weeks less I have to concentrate mostly on English language works.


Sounds like your course is a lot of work. I'd probably take something else myself. :-)

I do wonder why the quarter system is used. In my brief experience with it I thought it was awful. It felt like you had to go at a dead run all the time, and it has 50% more administrative overhead than semesters. That is, you have to go through the whole business of registration, getting the class organized, turning in grades, etc., three time per academic year instead of twice.

Maybe there are advantages, but I don't see them.

My understanding is that the quarter system was used more in the west because it synched better with young men being needed for agriculture, which is why it is much more a western/west coast phenomenon, and it remains in place because of inertia and the fact that any one school that changes is going to be out of synch with most of the other schools in the state/region.

Strangely the University of California system has both semesters and quarters depending on the campus.

Hmm I looked up UCLA and Irvine (and I know from personal experience that San Diego is on quarters). Maybe it is just Berkeley that has semesters. I wonder what the story behind that is.

I went to undergrad under both systems (transferred from one school to another after two years) and preferred quarters. It seemed to be possible to cover almost as much material, without getting bored or distracted during weeks where nothing much was going on. In semesters, there's a period of doldrums after the midterm but before the final is all that close which seemed like wasted time.

Was doing some googling, and apparently, all UC schools were on semesters until 1966, when it was recommended that the entire system change to quarters in order to facilitate year round usage. In 69, in response to Reagan's cutbacks in tertiary ed, the summer quarter was dropped. In 76, Berkeley faculty voted to move back to semesters, but UC president delayed approval in hopes that all schools would move back. The information is in this pdf

A lot of it seems to be cost cutting. This page has this

On the quarter system, it was argued, the university had the budget for a summer quarter that best fit the students’ needs. The student fees were also more suitable. In a document from 1966, which prepares the faculty for the new academic schedule, Chancellor Young states:

“The fee for a quarter is two thirds of the semester fee, rounded to the nearest $0.50 for semester fees less than $10, and rounded to the nearest whole dollar for semester fees of $10 or more.”

The regular tuition fee for one semester was $400.00 compared to $267.00 for one quarter.

The commencement ceremony fees would also drop since it was decided, that on the quarter system, only one commencement ceremony would be conducted.

Chancellor Young also prepares the faculty for the change in course credits and grading systems. For instance, “Under the quarter system calendar, no midterm grades will be assigned or issued; instead, a procedure to verify enrollment in classes will be instituted.” Also, course credit would change. Some courses became 2 courses on the course listings in terms of credit. Some were half credit (like Anatomy 100) to adjust to the quarter grade point system.

It was also argued that a quarter system would maximize the use of UC facilities in the time of enrollment growth as it would allow for four regular periods of academic instruction.

The debate on the academic calendar has continued since the switch in 1966. In 1971, David Saxon, UCLA Vice Chancellor (later UC President), appointed a committee to consider a return to semesters. However, because of the divided faculty vote and students’ opposition, the decision to return was not successful.

Again, in 1976, 1977, 1985, and in 2002, the idea of a return to the semester system was resurfaced. Each time, however, the Academic Senate Vote favored remaining on the quarter system.

Needless to say, this blows the agricultural theory out of the water, with quarters aimed at dealing with the reduction of agricultural employment. C'est la vie.

I think that quarters are great for undergrad for the reasons LB mentions, but they really suck for grad courses, because the time doesn't allow you to sufficiently research the field and do something appropriately novel in order to put together a decent paper.

Quarters are better for science courses; semesters are better for humanities courses. At least, that was the conventional wisdom I learned.

As a sidenote, women that use computers are a really, really important topic.

Debian, who I'd think are possibly the least politically aware group of people in the world, except for on a very, very, narrow field, have a specific drive to get more women involved. Comp Sci and Maths are something like 90% male.

This is a subject that lots of people are interested in, and they tend to have degrees in hard subjects, like Maths and Logic and so-on, and quite a few of them have degrees from scary places like MIT.

Some of them are also Christians.

This is not a PC issue. Anyone that thinks it is is a hack, and a not-very-bright one either.

LJ- I think that quarters are great for undergrad for the reasons LB mentions, but they really suck for grad courses, because the time doesn't allow you to sufficiently research the field and do something appropriately novel in order to put together a decent paper.

I think quarters really suck for grad students in that we not only have the pressures you describe for writing papers, but are also teaching undergrad courses that are stuffed full of assignments. There is no slack.

The one thing I do like about the quarter system is that it seems to lend itself more to interdisciplinary learning. There is less time to process the information you take in, so it tends to spill over into your other courses or your courses for the next quarter. That works well for grads like me who are on the boundaries of different disciplines and less well for grads hoping to find a place in a highly professionalized discipline.

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