Archive for Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chancellor’s class tackles issue of global poverty

September 5, 2007


Chancellor teaches 14 students from the Outlook

KU's top administrator moved to the head of the class. One class in particular that he teaches each Thursday at his residence, the Outlook. Enlarge video

Late every Thursday afternoon, students meet with Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway to discuss small problems.

Ending world poverty. Harnessing the rising level of pollution. Ensuring human rights for all.

You know, basic, minor issues.

The 14 students are part of a class in the Chancellor's Learning Community: The End of Global Poverty. The upper-level students in the university's Honors Program meet at the chancellor's residence and are enrolled in two other courses on the same topic. Hemenway elected to have students read Jeffrey Sachs' "The End of Poverty" in his seminar course.

"I love the audacity of the book," Hemenway said. "That we can end poverty by the second decade of the century. That's something students can really identify with."

Students munch on pretzels and sip sodas - provided by the chancellor - as they sit on antique-style furniture.

But don't get the wrong idea. They're not taking this class lightly.

"Look at this class. Anyone at KU would be fortunate to have a class with these students," Hemenway said. "I'm very impressed with the students and what these (learning communities) offer them."

Hemenway teaches a class every year, usually in the fall. Historically, it's been an early-morning English class, but this year he decided to teach a late-afternoon course in a learning community.

"We have to be involved with the educational effort," he said. "Teaching is an important aspect of what we do."

The learning community program is a grouping of similar classes that can give students a more complete look at one specific topic.

In the case of Hemenway, he's focusing on poverty, particularly as it relates to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Hemenway wrote on that subject in an address he included in the university's 2006 annual report.

"I pledge that KU will do its part to prepare its graduates to contribute toward meeting the millennium goals, to being proud Jayhawks around the world working to eliminate poverty and to promote economic justice," he wrote. "They know their KU degree is a passport to a better world, a powerful force for good in a world full of anger, violence and death."

The millennium goals include eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, gender equality, maternal health, lower child mortality, elimination of certain diseases, environmental sustainability and global development.

On a recent Thursday, students spent a great deal of time discussing whether sweat shops in poorer countries were any worse than conditions endured by American and European workers during the Industrial Revolution.

Jessica Bergman, a senior from Louisburg, enrolled in the chancellor's class after an internship with the United Nations.

"My mentor assigned this book to read," she said. "I also read the U.N. development goals. Before you can address the individual problem with poverty, you have to address the big picture. These goals address everything I have a problem with in the world."

Bergman says learning from the chancellor has been relatively easy because he's been extremely friendly.

"But the free food and drinks help," she joked.

Ryan Good, the chancellor's learning-community peer leader, acts as a bit of a teaching assistant for the chancellor and helps steer discussions. Good said it was a conscious decision to have the class meet at the chancellor's house, instead of a traditional classroom.

"I think students have taken to it really well," the Lawrence graduate student said. "There was some hesitance at first, but there's incredible openness among the students now."


KU_cynic 10 years, 8 months ago

Gee, I'm sure the students just can't wait for Hemenway's riveting lecture on "Zora Neale Hurston and Global Poverty."

Hemenway is by no means an expert on global poverty. He isn't even a talented amateur. Either this class is a scam on the students or a public relations gig in which Hemenway gets to take credit for "teaching" a class that is really being team-taught by other faculty members who might actually know something about global poverty. Either way, his time would be better spent planning his retirement and polishing his resignation speech.

3e8 10 years, 8 months ago

"The poor will always be with you."

From the top ...

Mush talk, Jayhawk, KU!

mr_economy 10 years, 8 months ago

Your self-advertised cynicism seems to have bled over into a tendency to make faulty assumptions (and you know what they say about assumptions...). On the first day of class, Chancellor Hemenway admitted he is no expert on the issue; that is not the point of this portion of the learning community. The point is to take the knowledge acquired from the main courses that go with the LC (Global Development and Modern African History in my case) and use it to critically analyze Sachs' arguments. Additionally, we are / will be reading authors who advocate alternative approaches to those proposed by Sachs, only further fostering critical thought about the problem of global poverty. There is no lecturing, only discussion using the Socratic Method.

If nothing else, the process of discourse and using critical thinking skills about a clear problem affecting millions of people is a positive end in itself. Universities constantly receive criticism for being "ivory towers" where academics can argue over semantics in a pretend world of academia. The Chancellor's Learning Community provides the bridge between theoretical approaches to issues of global poverty, and their real-world results; between orthodoxy, and orthopraxis, to borrow terms from a mentor of mine.

The Chancellor cares deeply about the issue of global poverty; he probably will not be the one to solve it, and chances are neither will any of us in the community. But as long as our cynicism has not grown to the bitter point that yours clearly has, there is no reason why we cannot lend our thoughts, and hopefully actions, to this very real problem.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

I must agree with KU_cynic. 14 students? Big woop. Maybe the Chancellor should teach some sections of intro chemistry or biology, where there are upwards of 300-100 students in each class. Since he knows nothing about global poverty and is teaching this class, I see no reason why he couldn't teach chemistry or biology.

Maybe the part about planning retirement and polishing the resignation speech would better serve the university, however.

KU_cynic 10 years, 8 months ago


I first observed, "Either this class is a scam on the students or a public relations gig in which Hemenway gets to take credit for "teaching" a class that is really being team-taught by other faculty members who might actually know something about global poverty."

I infer from your remarks that my second characterization is true. I hope you work hard and learn a lot, and that the chancellor does, too. It sounds like an experience that many KU faculty members and students -- trapped by resource constraints in large enrollment classes characterized by discussion-free lectures and machine-scored exams -- would envy.

mr_economy 10 years, 8 months ago


While you were/are right about the team-teaching assertion, I still feel the need to disagree with regard to the Chancellor's motive for taking on this Learning Community. Granted nobody but the Chancellor truly knows his motive, but my perception has been and is that he is truly motivated by the subject of global poverty. He told us that attending the Davos meeting, and in particular listening to both Bono (who wrote the forward for Sachs' book) and Sachs himself, made him acutely aware of the magnitude of this problem. Though the result may be good press for the Chancellor and the University, I seriously question whether that is anything more than the most minor of motivating factors.

I certainly agree, however, that this is a unique opportunity afforded to so few at KU. I have been extremely fortunate during my time here in that I have been able to experience three such intimate Learning Community-type experiences. Even on their worst days, they still beat out the 600-person physics lecture I'm about to attend.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

Colonel_Agnus said: "This can't be good and can only go in two directions 1. Marxism 2. Anarcho-syndicalism"

You forgot to mention two others. 3. Plaque. 4. Tooth decay.

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