Following an agreement signed last May, Kansas University and Haskell Indian Junior College are offering their first cooperative class this semester.
Every Thursday, Ray Pierotti, an assistant professor in systematics and ecology-environmental studies at KU, teaches a three-hour course called Native and Western Views of Nature to about 25 students from Haskell and KU.
When Pierotti was hired by KU from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, he said, part of his responsibility was to help coordinate a class between the two colleges.
"As far as I know, very few classes like this have been taught anywhere," Pierotti said. "Generally, students might get an instructor telling them what a native person thinks. In this class, not only will they get a Native American's perspective but the perspective of different nations and tribes."
THE COURSE is a combination of student discussion and student group leading. During the first half of the semester, Pierotti serves as the group leader, bringing up topics and clarifying points but mostly staying out of the students' way. For the second half of the semester, Pierotti plans to let the students take over in groups of two or more and lead the discussion.
"This is not a lecture class," Pierotti said. "I never intended it to be a lecture class. And it's not a class that can be easily graded. How am I going to judge what a person thinks of their world view? There's not a right or wrong here."
The course has proven to be so popular that it was full before it was listed in KU's spring schedule of classes, Pierotti said.
"We've met a few times now," he said. "I've been pleased with the students' participation, but a lot of them are still getting used to the idea."
THE COURSE is the first class offered by both schools since a memorandum of understanding was signed in May 1992. The memoradum authorized development of student, faculty and staff exchanges, as well as joint research and teaching projects.
"We've had other professors who have come down and helped us out in the past," said Dan Wildcat, head of the department of natural and social sciences at Haskell. "But this is the first time as a result of the memorandum."
Wildcat said both schools will benefit from the exchanges.
"I like to see a number of course exchanges result from this agreement," he said. "Both with KU faculty at Haskell and with Haskell faculty at KU."
Students from both Haskell and KU will benefit from the different perspectives they're being exposed to, Pierotti said.
"THE STUDENTS are experiencing what another culture thinks," he said. "Both groups can learn from each other."
Pierotti said he hopes the class will be offered every spring semester and that other courses are in the works for the fall.
Wildcat said plans are under way for a Haskell instructor to teach a class at KU in the fall.