Archive for Tuesday, March 23, 2010

KU taking community members out of honors Western Civ program

March 23, 2010


For the first time in 55 years, Kansas University’s Western civilization honors program will operate without community volunteer discussion leaders next semester.

James Woelfel, director of KU’s Western civilization program for the past 25 years, said the program’s curriculum committee voted to change the way its honors courses were taught.

The current system for honors students features a once-a-week lecture from a rotating group of faculty members, supplemented by a smaller discussion section, which have been taught by faculty combined with eight community volunteers with advanced degrees and one faculty volunteer.

Following a program review that questioned why senior faculty members weren’t teaching the courses, the department made the change, effective next fall. The discussion-lecture format will be abandoned, with faculty members teaching all the honors courses on a regular schedule.

“It’s about what we believe to be the normal expectations of having honors students taught by regular faculty,” Woelfel said. “This is really the standard in universities across the country.”

The move is budget-neutral, Woelfel said, as faculty members will take on the increased teaching responsibility while rearranging their other duties. The department will be able to serve the same number of honors students as before.

Jerry Harper is a Lawrence attorney who was one of eight community members who has volunteered to lead a discussion section of honors Western civilization off and on since 1990.

He said he was disappointed with the way the decision was made, saying he received a “rude” letter notifying him that he would not be retained, and that he had never been observed or asked about his teaching skills before.

Some volunteers, such as Matt Stein, a Lawrence oncologist and hematologist, had been teaching for 20 years, Harper said.

“So far as I know, not a single one of the adjunct faculty was so much as asked a question or had suggested to them that we were not doing a good job,” Harper said. “It was just so offensive and done in a such an unfeeling way.”

Woelfel agreed that the decision could have been handled better, particularly with respect to its timing — KU officials rushed the decision to meet a deadline for submitting fall course schedules.

“It has been a difficult decision, and in hindsight, we should’ve handled it with more sensitivity,” he said.


kulaw1632 8 years, 3 months ago

This is really too bad. When I was an undergrad a few years ago my small section was one my favorite classes. The "lecture" component, taught by full-time faculty and guest lecturers, wasn't nearly as valuable as the small section taught by a local attorney.

Dan Edwards 8 years, 3 months ago

I fondly remember my honors western civ classes from about 12 years ago. Dr. Richard Sosinski was our discussion leader, and, just like kulaw1632 said above, got so much more out of those small group discussions than the huge lecture. Dr. Sosinksi was really good at spurring discussion but then stepping back and letting the students talk things out.

I also concur with Oak in that we all said at the time that the honors sections of Western Civ were actually easier than the regular sections because we weren't regularly tested to see if we read the books. But I still enjoyed the classes and got a lot out of them.

pandazrule 8 years, 3 months ago

While I also enjoyed one of my two honors western civ discussions, we did not really learn much. I felt sad and angry that my discussion group leader for western civ two did not grasp the concepts very well, if at all. Of my KU classes, western civ was definitely the most disappointing because it fell so far short of the incredible potential it has as a curricular concept.

jayreeze15 8 years, 3 months ago

This is a bad decision on the university's part. The volunteers add depth that might not have come from other western civ classes. From my experience, the only people that have enjoyed and/or learned anything with western civ were the ones who took the class with one of the volunteers. I was looking forward to taking this class in the fall with a particular person who I hear is especially amazing at teaching, but I think I'd be better off taking it somewhere else because it's a "joke of a class".

PennyBrite 8 years, 3 months ago

My Western Civ class was a joke. I had a TA for my small group discussion who told us on our very first night he was "stuck" with us and therefore we were "stuck" with him. He obviously did not want to be there and I don't think a single one of us learned a thing. I had to take the class and out of all the classes I took at KU, this one was the only one I'd say was totally useless.

betti81 8 years, 3 months ago

i did not enjoy the way this class was taught and hope they change the rotating lecture as well. It was incredible disjointed and I felt cheated after I took the regular WesCiv II course. I learned so much more from the regular class. My discussion leaders were the two gentleman mentioned/quoted in the article. Half the time only one of them could be there and the other one's son was in the discussion. Made for one-sided conversations. Good change KU.

Nikopol 8 years, 3 months ago

The practice of using non-academic community volunteers to teach honors courses has put the Western Civ program out of step with KU standards and those of most reputable universities. Honors students have every right to feel "cheated" by this custom, as betti81 states above. Though this change should have been made years ago, kudos to Western Civ for rejoining the rest of the university!

Sue McDaniel 8 years, 3 months ago

This is a horrible move and a big slap in the face to the wonderful people from the community that did this for the students. I do not understand WHY they are doing this!!!

crazyfred 8 years, 3 months ago

The reasons were stated in the article, so what's left to understand? University courses, especially at the honors level, must be taught by trained academics. Students expect this and parents do too - it's what they're paying for. The bigger question is: why was this allowed to go on for so long? Where was the KU admin while this was going on for decades? Several comments have already indicated problems with some of these volunteers, so even the results were obviously mixed. One can sympathize with hurt feelings and bruised egos, but this seems like a very sound move.

onthekaw 8 years, 2 months ago

Matt Stein was one of the best teachers I've ever had, and that includes senior faculty members. Who better than an oncologist to lead discussions on the big issues of life and death (which is what the class is really about)?

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