Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2012

Heard on the Hill: Common Book author on campus; law-school application story different at Washburn; curriculum changes stretching well beyond Western Civilization

October 4, 2012


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• The author of KU's first-ever "Common Book" is on campus this week, taking part in several events.

The university distributed "Notes From No Man's Land" by Eula Biss to all of its freshmen this year, as part of one of several new initiatives designed to help first-year students stay connected, stick around and succeed.

Biss, who teaches at Northwestern University in Illinois, will be taking part in two events today: Student Union Activities' weekly "Tea @ Three" at 3 p.m. in the lobby of the Kansas Union, and then a conversation event, "Who, Then, is One's Neighbor?" at 5 p.m. in the Union's ballroom. She'll follow that up with a morning "Coffee and Conversation" Q-and-A event at 9 a.m. Friday, in The Commons in Spooner Hall.

My colleague Alex Garrison recommends Biss' essay "The Pain Scale" in case you'd like an introduction to her work.

• KU's law school had good news to report this week when it came to the number of student applications it received for 2012 (they increased by 19 percent from last year).

But the story was quite a bit different at Washburn University in Topeka, the Capital-Journal reports. Washburn's application total fell from nearly 900 in 2011 — actually more than the 819 KU received — to 626 in 2012, more than 350 fewer than KU.

That seems to jibe with a theory KU law officials told me about earlier this week: that as prospective law students think more carefully about how much debt they'll be racking up and what kind of investment they're making, they may look more kindly upon law schools at well-known state universities, while private schools and lesser-known institutions may suffer.

Not every law school's 2012 application numbers are yet available. Law Dean Stephen Mazza told me many schools wait until U.S. News and World Report publishes the data with its law-school rankings, which come out in the spring.

• We've reported a couple times on how KU's effort to revamp its undergraduate curriculum might affect the age-old Western Civilization requirement.

But Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, the director of the humanities and Western Civ program at KU, raised a good point to me when I checked with her to find out what schools currently have Western Civ requirements.

She noted that Western Civ won't be the only traditional requirement to be affected by the planned new KU Core curriculum for all undergraduates: The introductory classes in English, philosophy and many other subjects that thousands of undergrads have taken may no longer be required in the same way they were before.

The new Core curriculum is going to be all about flexibility, KU officials have told me, and the less-rigid requirements will probably have a big effect on the paths that undergrads have long followed through certain high-trafficked gen-ed classes, Zimdars-Swartz noted.

So far, we've reported on what might happen with Western Civilization because of its particular notability among KU courses. But watch for us to take a look at some of those other possible changes as the curriculum is finalized during this school year, in advance of fall 2013 when it will go into effect.

• We'd like to think of Heard on the Hill as the "Common Blog" for folks who like to keep an eye on KU, but we can't claim that title officially yet. Maybe you can help us get there if you send your tips to, though.


Stan Unruh 5 years, 3 months ago

I wonder just how many frosh will actually attend the Common Book events?

chalice2 5 years, 3 months ago

As a double graduate of KU (BA, English 1972, MA English 1976) and a high school educator for nearly 40 years, I worry about curriculum changes. I don't believe that the excellent education I received at KU couldn't have been improved, but I worry that much of our cultural heritage will be left out and denied to students of the 21st century. To use a term of disapproval from my youth, I don't believe that the arts should be limited to "dead white men." Far from it. But instead of dropping why not add? Why not read the works of all our great ancestors of every color, gender, and persuasion? A balanced education will lead to a fairer and more just society.

overthemoon 5 years, 3 months ago

I would support such changes ONLY if high schools ramp up and actually prepare students for college level writing and mathematics so the remedial 101 courses could be skipped. I worry about the emphasis on science and engineering to the detriment of the humanities. Our technical professionals, and everyone else as well, need to understand not only 'how' but 'why'.

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