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Archive for Monday, September 3, 2012

Western Civilization class may no longer be required at KU

Desire for flexibility cited as reason to make longtime standard optional

September 3, 2012

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As Kansas University shifts to a new set of general education requirements, KU leaders hope to give students more flexible options. And that will likely mean students can choose to avoid some hurdles their predecessors had to clear, including a course familiar to most KU undergraduates: Western Civilization.

The reading-heavy two-semester introductory courses are centered on exposing students to some of the great books in the Western canon and usually involve smaller discussion sections where students hash out some of the big ideas from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.

The two-semester sequence is required under existing rules to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Danny Anderson, KU’s dean of liberal arts and sciences, said a school committee is in the middle of revamping its own general education requirements to align with a universitywide effort.

Though that process is ongoing, he said, he is directing the committee to provide as many flexible options as possible. That likely means that while Western Civilization courses will continue to be offered and will likely fill a requirement of the new curriculum, they will be an elective course instead of a mandatory one.

“It’s not that Western Civilization will be dropped; what we’re doing is including it in a range of options,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that under today’s requirements if a student came to KU with no advanced placement credit, he or she would be spending well over half of his or her hours for graduation on general education requirements.

“Students today really want to advance more quickly in areas they want to specialize in, or they want to do second or third minors that will help them in the job market,” he said.

Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, director of KU’s humanities and Western Civilization program, said while the new requirements may mean fewer students take the introductory courses, some of the other courses in the department also may be included in the new requirements as electives. That potentially could increase attendance in those courses.

Faculty members in the program also are reviewing the introductory courses to align with the goals of the new KU curriculum, she said.

James Hillesheim, a retired KU professor of education, taught the required Western Civilization courses for years. He said he had heard that they were in danger of being dropped from the mandated courses that students had to take in liberal arts and sciences.

“I thought, uh-oh, there it goes,” he said. “It’s, to me, going in the wrong direction.”

He said the discussions in Western Civilization courses tackled a whole range of ideas and problems that come up again and again throughout life. They also expose students to Western culture and thought.

“I see it as trying to raise numbers of graduating students by lowering standards,” he said.

KU officials insist the new requirements will still ensure students are learning the skills that a university education is supposed to provide, but will merely emphasize different paths to get there.

Comments

Newell_Post 1 year, 7 months ago

If you graduate from high school with an adequate general education, and then get a university education in a field that leads to a career with decent financial security, you can spend part of your time for the rest of your life reading and studying the background of western civilization. You should probably do that anyway, regardless of your formal education.

But if you spend your college years on non-career-specific "liberal" education, you might never achieve any decent level of economic security. I'm an employer, and in 35 years I have never once hired anyone with a non-career-specific university education. (Except for receptionists. I have hired receptionists with B.A. degrees.)

From what I can see, the myth of the "liberal" education has been perpetuated by liberal arts professors to justify their own existence, since they never learned any career skills in college, either.

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bevy 1 year, 7 months ago

As a Washburn alum, blindrabbit, I think I can speak for the bods when I say "NOOOOO!!!!"

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

State should have never moved Emporia, Ft. Hays and Pittsburgh into the University system. Was done to satisfy politico's in the hinterlands, to the detriment of KU, KSU and Wichita. Once even entertained bringing Washburn fully into the State system, cooler heads prevailed on this concept. Not really sure why Washburn would want this anyway; they seem pretty secure as they are.

But maybe time for KU and State to explore privatization, I would like to know all the pros and cons.

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irtnog2001 1 year, 7 months ago

I see privatization as a win-win solution. The university can raise standards as it wishes without state control the state can use the saved tax expenditures for secondary schools. Not sure Kansas can continue to support all of the state universities.

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Paul R Getto 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't want a dumbed-down KU.=====

Good point but the political climate encourages SHEEPLE not thinkers. We may be in trouble.

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pigballin 1 year, 7 months ago

KU Liberal Arts has decided to lower it's standards to obtain true useful curriculum for a degree.

How absurd the university would lower it's academia to obviously attain a degree of substandard arts.

Shame on u ku,,not capitalized.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

Maybe time for concerned alums to do a little twisting on the KU Endowment Association if they feel that the University is headed in the wrong direction on this matter.. From reading the original story it appears that the dean of the College of LA&S has already made the decision to abandon the Western Civ. requirement. I don't want a dumbed-down KU.

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oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 7 months ago

A true Votech would be good bit it 's hard to teach drunk students how to run power tools. Face the facts! This is about moving as many bodies through as possible as fast as possible. Sadly, ku wants to raise the standards for admission but water down the curriculum. Bring back thosebquonset huts and let these raggedy flip flop lazies see what a real classroom was like.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

Let's face it, the proposed elimination is part of the College of LA&S to dumb down the curriculum in order to meet the needs and aptitute of many entering students. KU realizes that it is not only in the educational business but it is in the business of attracting students and the dollars they bring. By maintaining high standards universities run the risk of chasing off students whose primary empasis is the job market and not necessarily a quality eductation. This is re-enforced by hiring in the job market where "quality education" often takes a backseat to job skills and inexpensive hires. Kansas has many colleges and universities (maybe more than the population can reasonably support), hence the competition for bodies. This being the case, why would the supposed "Flagship" school join the dumbing down chase other than the $$$$'s.

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tomatogrower 1 year, 7 months ago

This is ridiculous. Let's eliminate the name University and call it Kansas VoTech. Poor babies. How can you expect them to read all those dead guys. I mean, what do they have to do with today. Besides, the pundits can interpret all that old stuff for us in little sound bites.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

MacHeath: What are you trying to do, kill off the book industry. I remember carrying a grocery sack (probably 20 books) to satisfy the first semester of WC; probably the same for the second semester. Much of the assigned readings were just parts of those tomes, I often wondered why a synopsis document was not available. This was 45 years ago, and KU apparently has not upgraded the course very much in the intervening years. Obviously, time for some real changes.

As much as I dreaded all of the reading and late hours trying to understand all of the literal and hidden meanings in these writings, and readying for that dreaded final exam, I have to admit now I fall back on that knowledge even though it was far removed from my major and working life. To have missed that exposure would have been unfortunate. As a natural sciences major, the most rewarding classes I enrolled in at KU were not in my major but were W.C., Art History and Classical Music History. These exposures make life much more rewarding!

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MacHeath 1 year, 7 months ago

Two semesters of study group class and then a comp exam? I was given (forced to buy) a pile of mostly uninteresting books to read, and was expected to discuss them in class with a student-teacher...then pass a comprehensive exam the next semester. I am surprised to learn that KU had maintained the same screwy format since I was in school. That was 40 years ago!! Not many years before I graduated, KU accepted a five hour lecture course to satisfy the requirement. I don't have any problem with the college of Liberal Arts requiring a "intro to western philosophy" class. How about just an interesting 3-hour lecture class? Or a 5-hour class that examines cross-cultural philosophy, and religion? It could be made interesting, and beneficial to all students.

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uggadyboogadyboo 1 year, 7 months ago

I placed out of WC......I filled in with basket weaving. To be are not to be..... Ya'll that took it, Ya got off lite.... PUNKS

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Paul R Getto 1 year, 7 months ago

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.  ~Albert Einstein". === Application of learned skills of any type is what counts. It's hard to say what really stick or make a difference in the long run. All we can do is try to build a base. WC is that base.

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none2 1 year, 7 months ago

I won't lie and say that Western Civ classes were my favorite ones. However, I cannot fathom Western Civ being dropped as a requirement...

The thing that stuck in my head the most was Voltaire and the evolving Age of Enlightenment. Here was what Voltaire wrote in regards to the Lisbon, Portugal earthquake on All Saints Day in 1755:

"What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast? Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid? In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss. Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck, Unmoved by this repellent dance of death, Who calmly seek the reason of such storms, Let them but lash your own security; Your tears will mingle freely with the flood."

Voltaire was criticizing the idea that somehow this natural disaster was caused by the wrath of God against immorality. What is bizarre is that 250 plus years later we still have people that believe that bad events happen because of wickedness of the people affected by the event. An example would be those who thought 911 happened because America turned its back on God. (It is important to note that Voltaire was a deist -- not an atheist.)

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irtnog2001 1 year, 7 months ago

Great points. I know a lot of "well educated" idiots for which such classes did not appear to help much. Ultimately, if you want to learn how to think you must teach yourself.

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Tomato 1 year, 7 months ago

If Western Civ was the ONLY requirement, then I would be in favor of it. But it's not.

You wade through two English classes (is there any reason for the second one when essay writing and reading can be and are incorporated into the two Western Civ classes?) Then there's the humanities requirement on top of that, and the social sciences requirement and the COMS requirement (why not shift some of the Western Civ reading to that COMS class and have people speak on those topics?), then they lumped a few more requirements on top of those ones for good measure.

I was extra lucky because I was a transfer student. I had taken a variety of humanities classes already (including Philosophy) and had already done the majority of the reading in Western Civ - but since it didn't fall under the special class heading "Western Civ," I repeated it all.

It was a super special experience. I sat through Western Civ as a Senior and was treated to a TA who told me not to try to discuss the readings too deeply because we really didn't have time and it mostly goes over the heads of the younger students, anyway - we didn't want to confuse them.

Really? Thanks for wasting my time and money.

Get rid of it as a requirement and make it elective. Incorporate the essentials into other classes. Let people take Philosophy if they want to take Philosophy.

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fu7il3 1 year, 7 months ago

You cannot have a true liberal arts education without Western Civilization. If you don't understand the basis for thought and social structure for our society, then you are a less productive citizen. Not productive, economically, but productive politically. We already have too many people who can't think for themselves, have no concept of political or social process, and believe anything they see on the internet.

A liberal arts education, at least for most measures, is less about getting a job and more about getting and education. Will the degree help you professionally? Yes, it can. But it is more about helping you personally. If you want job training, don't major in liberal arts. It's like we went to produce a society of productive workers who are unable to think.

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kernal 1 year, 7 months ago

For those still dissing Western Civ, here's a little quote from Sigmund Freud's "The Future of an Illusion" that I think speaks volumes about the U.S. today.

"...the less a man knows about the past and the present the more insecure must prove must be his judgment of the future."

Perhaps more voters and politicians should have taken Western Civ.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

bevy: Well said and right on! My guess is that many at KU and no doubt other universities as well would probably be better off with a Community College or Vo-Tech training and experience. Many use college as a growing-up, getting away from home and door opening advantage in getting a job. My guess is that the real advantage of a University liberal arts education has little bearing on them being in school.

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Doug Harvey 1 year, 7 months ago

This is exactly why higher education is free in civilized countries. Students need to learn what forces created the world they live in, and they shouldn't have to go into debt to do it. If it doesn't pay, it isn't worth doing? That would put prostitution and drug dealing on a higher plane than western civ. Brilliant.

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bevy 1 year, 7 months ago

Many valid points from all sides. I will inject a little wisdom that I gained from one of my professors at Washburn University. (No GTAs there, just PhDs teaching when I attended.) He taught honors courses in political science, among other things. He said "If you want job training, go to the vo-tech. If you want an EDUCATION, you go to a university." Mind you, this was 20 years ago, but I think his point is still valid. A university education (especially a liberal arts education) is supposed to teach you how to think, how to assimilate information, and how to communicate with others in ways that make sense. I have degrees in English and History from Washburn. My training in both areas has been essential to my success in the high-tech field in which I am employed. All industries need critical thinkers and people with good reading/writing/communications skills. All that Algebra I had to take in order to graduate? Haven't used it once. But I took it, because doing so was necessary for my education. I, too, groaned. But I did it!

There is also that old axiom "Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it." We see that in the news every day.

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catfishturkeyhunter 1 year, 7 months ago

Western Civilization I and II were good classes. Just depends on who is teaching them and how much they are in love with what they are teaching. I always enjoyed watching my instructor harrass KU students for wimping out on KU Western Civilization Classes and going over to Neosho County Community College because they think NCCC is going to be gravy.

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autie 1 year, 7 months ago

Yeah, CW, that Prince fellow was pretty interesting....he dressed rather gawdy though. I hate purple.

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CWGOKU 1 year, 7 months ago

By reading Machiavelli, I was able to understand our current politcal structure

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

voevoda: It did not say eliminated the foreign language requirement, just back off somewhat. When I at KU, the 16 hour (out of 132 hours) language requirement was a burden to taking other classes that could/would have provided a more well rounded LA experience. Don't want to eliminate just make more relevant. The University should strive to increase it's standing in math and science; too bad that many students struggle with this, but that should not really a KU problem, students should be better prepared in these subjects as part of the high school experience. "Make Western Civ more modern" then why eliminate it, too much reading though, too little real learning when grabbing a few facts to pass a required exam. Require staff to teach class, maybe should have said, lead a discussion group; I don't see a problem with chemists and sociologists (or for that matter, icthyologists), leading a group. Ethics is/are increasingly need in our complex society, not only as part of the college experience but as students leave and integrate into the larger society

I attended KU both prior to and after the Vietnam debacle; having served in Navy between those times. My recollection being that KU and other Universities cheapened their standards during that time (perhaps as part of the turbulent times). Degrees in General Studies and many of the more "Social" subjects seem to be the darlings following that time, and resulted in the decline of standards. Emphasis seemed to be directed to job creation for students as opposed to a well rounded LA education; something that should be offered/taught at the Community College level.

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autie 1 year, 7 months ago

No Western Civ would mean diminished critical thinking skills using the course materials as a frame of reference for how we became who we are. Without an understanding of the development of philosophical thinking in our society people could grow up believing things like the "you didn't build that" deception or the "gutted work requirement for welfare" deception. We already have too much codified willful ignorance.

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 7 months ago

The Decline of Western Civilization will not be noticed if students do not take the course.

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irtnog2001 1 year, 7 months ago

Hello unless you are talking about a specialized program the first two years are basically community college content anyway.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

(1) Back off of the foreign language requirement in The College of LA&S, (2) Increase the math and sciences requirement, (3) Re-emphasize Western Civ.. by modernizing it by making more of a learning experience and less of a "burden"; (4) Require all tenured ColLA&S staff to teach at least one Western Civ. session per school year. (5) Require a 1 hour course in "Ethics in Society"..

Is KU trying to become a Community College by proposing changes and weakening standards or does it want to retain it's leadership role at the University level in/for The State of Kansas?

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irtnog2001 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree with dropping these requirements. Unfortunately, it is just a recognition of todays economic reality. Students are first and foremost interested in reasonably priced education that will help them get jobs. Like it or not the demand for liberal arts majors will drastically decrease and these courses while they may be valuable are just too expensive and time consuming to require in todays economic enviroment. It has nothing to do with dumbing down.

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Centerville 1 year, 7 months ago

Too much reading? Hello! This is college we're talking about.

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classclown 1 year, 7 months ago

“I see it as trying to raise numbers of graduating students by lowering standards,”

===========================================

Ding ding ding ding ding!

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neverwrong 1 year, 7 months ago

Newsflash. Some specialized (read, not worthless) degrees are already exempt from Western Civ.

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Steve Bunch 1 year, 7 months ago

Another step in the decline and fall of KU. Why not give up all pretense? A college education is a mere commodity to be bought and sold.

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 7 months ago

Western Civ. was one of those classes that we all bitched and groaned about before taking the class. Years later, it's one of my fondest memories. And the comments about Prof. Seaver, exactly correct. One of the best educators you could ever hope to come into contact with. To this day, I'm surprised how many classes outside my area of study stand out in my mind, Western Civ. being near the top of that list.

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LJD230 1 year, 7 months ago

Ya know, I think, ya know that western civ is not a ya know, I think a very useful course you know because it like requires a student to read you know like some heavy books with heavy thoughts you know and we must you know I think graduate students in four years ya know.

Dropping the western civ requirement will only further cheapen the value of a KU undergraduate degree. You know?

1

autie 1 year, 7 months ago

It should be required. One cannot ignore such basic concepts in a University education. I don't care what your major is.

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Barclay 1 year, 7 months ago

Fine with me. Western Civ at KU was actually designed to systematically dismantle and deny any and all positive aspects of Christianity. It has really been effective, but it was rarely taught with any degree of historical integrity. Actually, I am kind of surprised it will no longer be required... But great news as far as I am concerned. Could have been an excellent course, but with a bias of political correctness guiding content and discussions it left students out on a limb without a trunk to support or explain a lot of history.

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oldexbeat 1 year, 7 months ago

Great class that mattered for my education at KU. Had it in 1967. Ramon Powers, later for 14 years head of the Kansas State Historical Society, taught my first semester.

Seems that teaching standards based on getting a job versus getting a mind might be winning -- oh hell, in the future Mitt says we'll be rich anyway. Time to train your mind then, I guess.

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LogicMan 1 year, 7 months ago

"As Kansas University shifts to a new set of general education requirements, KU leaders hope to give students more flexible options."

What's this, and to which schools will it apply?

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notaubermime 1 year, 7 months ago

Geeeeez people! They aren't dropping the class and with what they are discussing, and the class will still fulfill a requirement for the CLAS undergraduate degrees.

I agree with the KU admin that spending half of an undergraduate degree meeting general CLAS requirements is a bit much. Along those lines, taking time-intensive requirements and grouping them isn't a bad idea. The biggest question in my mind is whether doing that with Western Civ is the best of the options before them. To be able to judge that, one has to know more than just a snippet of the plans being considered.

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tange 1 year, 7 months ago

Further evidence of the decline?

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kef104 1 year, 7 months ago

Western Civilization is the backbone of Liberal Arts. This class is the definition of the curriculum for a Liberal Arts degree. It strives to push one from being a mere student to thinking as a true scholar. Being exposed to the great thinkers that are the foundation of modern thought challenges us to explore our own beliefs, our own experiences, and our own purpose.

The point of attending a 1st class university is to expand and strengthen one's mind. If a student only wants to get a piece of paper to get a job, then they have no business attending our institution. Seriously, let them attend Brown Mackie or the University of Phoenix.

While our youth may think they want a short cut to getting a job, our Academic leaders talk about striving to be a top institution of learning. In which direction are we actually heading? Do we broadcast reruns of Lavern and Shirley as a humanities credit or do we insist young minds challenge themselves, and each other, to understand the basis of not just our society, but all modern societies.

And yes I know using Lavern and Shirley is an extreme exaggeration of dumbing down. I only used it to demonstrate the potential eventual end result of lowering standards to accommodate the least common denominator of those who might be willing to pay our tuition.

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Jean Robart 1 year, 7 months ago

I took Western Civ at a college in another state, and was impressed with the course. We were not exposed to writers of epic books, but we were introduced to culture of the western world. It was fabulous. The course at KU sounds deadly.

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 7 months ago

Western Civ has been a stalwart of college education for a long time. The challenges of rigor and understanding are an absolute necessity for a college educated person. Our understandings and world views have evolved. I would hope that the expectation of rigor and understanding will be maintained. I wonder if these courses will increase overall understanding or isolate understanding such as black history or women's studies.

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blindrabbit 1 year, 7 months ago

Volunteer: You beat me to it, part of the dumbing down of America. Preparing the country for a slide into ignorance.

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ljreader 1 year, 7 months ago

It will be replaced by the Reclaiming of Aztlan class.

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dumbkansans 1 year, 7 months ago

Take it online at a community college. Anyone who takes Western Civ at KU deserves the bad grade they will more than likely receive.

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Newell_Post 1 year, 7 months ago

What a tragedy. What will now happen to the second and third sons of idle rich plantation owners? We don't need cavalry officers any more, and with Western Civ optional, will they actually be expected to study fields with career-related skills? Heaven forfend! (And Spellcheck doesn't even recognize "forfend." Ironically, Spellcheck doesn't even recognize "spellcheck" either, at least on LJW.)

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volunteer 1 year, 7 months ago

Appalling. The dumbing down brigade appears to be winning at ku. I went to washburn so I had professors with doctorates teaching me western civ. Does ku still allow a "general studies" degree? How is that provost for diversity working out for you? At least ku has a consumer economics course..along with many high schools in the state...

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parrothead8 1 year, 7 months ago

"Students today really want to advance more quickly in areas they want to specialize in..."

Then why go to a university? Go get a 2-year degree at a technical school or community college. Or maybe employers should take the initiative to start hiring and training people right out of high school.

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Curtis Lange 1 year, 7 months ago

Good riddance. Western Civ has to be in the top five worst 'mandatory' classes of all time. Horrible, horrible memories of that class.

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Pywacket 1 year, 7 months ago

I remember sitting in an airless, windowless closet (really--it was too small to call it a room), glossing over way too much information in way too little time, with a grad student leading the discussions. The material really is too important to be treated that way. They should either drop the class or teach it properly. Actually, much of it should be introduced in high school.

I'm curious, kansasplains1, as to when you took the class. Since our experiences were so different, I can only guess that things improved greatly or slid disastrously downhill in the years between our classes. Mine was in the mid-80s.

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kernal 1 year, 7 months ago

Oh, for pete's sake. If the rest of us were able to wade through it, so can future generations.

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Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 7 months ago

I remember Jim Seaver teaching my undergraduate courses in Western Civ, at Pearson Scholarship Hall, and he was tremendous!

Jim, you did a tremendous job, and you taught - and then we all discussed - whole new areas of thought which I had never before experienced. Western Civ put a new dimension in my whole outlook at KU.

I eventually intend to bring in some of your class discussions at my blog on Pearson Scholarship when I was there many years ago, but I had to make this comment when this article appeared today.

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