Linking KU's humanities and Western civilization programs expands interdisciplinary education options.
A new union of two old programs at Kansas University will allow students to craft a unique course of study in the liberal arts.
James Woelfel, professor of philosophy, said KU will connect Western civilization, built around the periodically controversial "great book" courses, and humanities, KU's oldest interdisciplinary degree program.
"Our feeling was that this was a natural combination," said Woelfel, who will direct the new Humanities and Western Civilization Program.
In the past, KU students couldn't earn a degree in Western civilization. That's significant, since 70 percent of KU's undergraduate students enroll in the two basic required Western civilization courses.
Humanities, which maintained a small enrollment and budget, did award degrees.
"The union gives the humanities program much greater visibility," Woelfel said. "It makes Western civilization part of a degree program."
The merger, effective July 1, is designed to create more opportunities for interdisciplinary studies at KU. Students will have the freedom to fashion a course of study shaped to their interests.
In planning a degree, students will be able to choose a concentration in humanities, humanities with literature or -- the new option -- Western civilization.
Woelfel said he was optimistic about enrolling students in the new Western civilization concentration.
"I've had students back through the years who had taken Western civ and they would ask, 'Can you major in Western civ?' I would say, 'No. You can't.'"
He said each path of study would be structured to encourage students to see and think about similarities and differences among disciplines and cultures.
All students in the major will be expected to engage in a heavy regimen of reading, writing and critical thinking, Woelfel said. Seniors will be required to write a capstone essay reflecting their integrated study.
"We emphasize student research," Woelfel said.
Discussion of a merger began five years ago. The change was approved by the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Unaffected by the union is the option to complete two Western civilization courses and two history courses while studying for a semester in Florence, Italy, and Paris.
In addition, a team of faculty will continue to teach a course on the biography of a city. Previous targets were Rome, Paris, Los Angeles. This fall, faculty will present the biography of Lawrence.