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.