Liberal Arts Seminar

Course Titles and Descriptions


The following sections of LAS will be offered in the Spring semester of 2009.







(MWF 9:00)



(MWF 10:00)



Current Issues and Enduring Questions (Greg Bassham)

The class seeks to improve students’ reading, thinking, discussion, and study skills through critical discussion of topics of both current and perennial concern. Students will explore great ideas such as freedom, justice, and happiness, as well as contemporary debates over issues such as affirmative action, gun control, capital punishment, immigration reform, drug use, evolution vs. intelligent design, and educational reform.




(MWF 9:00 )



(MWF 10:00)


The Bizarre Brain (Kyle Johnson)

The brain is a funny thing. Hit your head in the wrong spot, and you might perpetually think you are in 1945. Brain surgery to help deal with your seizures might make you act like you are being controlled by two different people. A tumor might make you think your wife is a hat. Temporal lobe seizures might make you “hear God.” In this class we will examine our growing knowledge of the brain, and how it affects our view of the world and ourselves. We will read some of the bizarre cases in the literature of neuroscience, learn how the brain works, and explore the implications on self, consciousness, and the possibility of artificial intelligence. Texts will include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks; Phantoms in the Brain, by V. S. Ramachandran; Mapping the Mind, by Rita Carter; The Mind’s Past, by Michael Gazzaninga, and Best of the Brain from Scientific American, edited by Floyd Bloom. 




(MWF 10:00)



(MWF at 11:00)


Unruly Women through the Ages (Megan Lloyd)

Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Medea, Lady Macbeth, and maybe your mom. This course investigates the strong female in literature, history and society and explores the attitudes and anxieties about power that smart, assertive women generate.




(MWF 12:00)


From Woody Guthrie to Woodstock (Marlon Alber)


In this class, we'll respond to music, film, poetry, novels, plays, and critical essays spanning from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War.  Our group will share the responsibility of contributing to a free exchange of ideas and continue the dialogue with iconic writers (John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, J.D. Sallinger, Arthur Miller, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, and more) and musicians (Odetta, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel and more).  We'll listen to lyrics, interpret music as poetry, and place the stories being told into their historical contexts.  We'll also read some of the toughest critics of these icons and explore the validity of arguments being presented.  Research projects include analytical interpretation and interaction with the critical reviews of the musicians and writers covered in class.  All research topic selections will be student-based.  Possible texts include Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie, and On the Road, The Dharma Bums, or  the Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac.





(MWF 1:00)


In Search of the American Dream (Howard Fedrick)

A study and critical analysis of major oral and written “definitions” of the American dream, its essential elements, its major advocates and “guides.”  Significant emphasis will be placed on the reading and study of materials from1600 to1990. Focus will be given to significant issues and crosscurrents in American history (e.g. liberty, exceptionalism, manifest destiny, democracy, "the melting pot", equal rights, rugged individualism, community, welfare, a nation of laws, the Horatio Alger ethos, the Puritan work ethic, leisure, cultural pluralism etc. As necessary, desirable, and available, print, audio, and visual resources will be used in the course. Tools used will combine critical thinking skills, the classical rhetorical canons and the basic factors of historical context analysis.





(MW 2:00)


Baseball and the American Experience (Michael R. Berry)

This class will examine the phenomenon known as “Baseball.” This course will use a variety of written material to explore how baseball has paralleled the experience of America.  The course will focus on how baseball was founded, its impact and reflection of various social movements such as the labor union movement and civil rights to modern concepts such as drug use in society (steroids) and capitalism (player salaries).  Texts will include The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, Baseball and Philosophy, edited by Eric Bronson, and a variety of other sources including selections from the Sporting News.





(MW 2:00)


Our Cosmic Perspective (Kristi Concannon)

Over the course of two thousand years, mankind has seen its cosmic perspective shift dramatically – from the idea that the Universe is centered on the Earth to the knowledge that we are an isolated band of beings on a tiny rock orbiting an average star in the outskirts of a single galaxy in a sea of billions of others. This course will examine mankind’s quest to understand his place in the Universe: the technological advances and the human scientific endeavors that ushered in the changing views; the philosophical implications of the changing scientific perspective; and, ultimately, whether humans are the only intelligent beings in the cosmos. We will read Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos by Alan Hirschfield, popular science articles and editorials from Scientific American, Discover and Sky and Telescope; and excerpts from Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way and The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy and the Acceleration Cosmos. We may also watch episodes from the NOVA Series “Origins: Fourteen Years of Cosmic Evolution” and the movie “Contact.”




(TT 8:00)


What’s True about Us?  Full Moons, Prozac, Booze, Kids, and Dogs: Answering questions about everyday human behavior  (Charles Brooks)

In this course we focus on questions we ask each other regularly, questions like, “Does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior?” “Do other racial groups all look the same?”; “Can the alcoholic drink socially?”; “Do children raised by gay parents turn out OK?” We will evaluate information on these and many other issues and move toward reasonable and critically-based positions on these questions about everyday behavior. (See g drive “Brooks” for a more complete list of topics.)  Books may include

Autism’s False Prophets, by Paul Offit; Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell; and How Psychology Applies to Everyday Life, by Charles Brooks & Michael Church.




(TT 9:30)



(TT 11:00)


World Wide Webs: Humans, Nature, and Technology (Neal Bukeavich)

This seminar provides an introduction to college-level academic study with an emphasis on critical reading and discussion.  This particular section will focus on the subject of “nature.”  Through in-depth readings of literary, philosophical, historical, scientific, and journalistic texts, we will explore the ways in which humans relate to nature, the roles that language and art play in those relations, the impact of modernization and globalization on the nonhuman world, and the prospects of a return to more ecologically attuned ways of inhabiting the planet.  Texts might include Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Richard Powers’s Gain, a film or two (Jurassic Park,  Grizzly Man, An Inconvenient Truth, etc.) and short selections by scientists (Jared Diamond, Sandra Steingraber), anthropologists (Marvin Harris), entrepreneurs (Paul Hawken), historians (Carolyn Merchant, William Cronon), cultural critics (James Howard Kunstler), and journalists (Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan). 




(TT 11:00)



(TT 12:30)


Area 51 (Mike Little)

Why are notions of secret societies, vast cover-ups, highly coordinated cabals, and international puppet masters so intriguing? More to the point, why are so many people willing to entertain their plausibility? How are conspiracy theorists able to maintain their theories in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence? How do we argue against such suspicions when they cannot, by their very nature, be proved wrong? We’ll examine the arguments for cover-ups and the hidden agendas of secret societies ranging from the trivial (Paul McCartney is dead, but Elvis Presley is not) to the repugnant (the US government is behind the 9/11 attacks) and many in between: the faked moon landings; the aliens at Roswell; the suspicious deaths of JFK and Princess Diana; Masons, Skull and Bones, and Opus Dei. Readings will include fiction, film, published arguments for and against various theories, as well as sociological and psychological examinations of the appeal and function of such theories for individual, groups, and communities.




(TT 9:30)



 (TT 12:30)


Growing Up in a Time of War (Jim Wallace)

In this class we’ll read a variety of texts across a range of disciplines (history, literature, autobiography, psychology) that explore the impact of war on children and adolescents in the United States and in other countries.  We’ll analyze and discuss arguments and essays on such topics as paramilitary organizations, war-themed video games, the draft, war toys, child soldiers, media coverage of war, and the war that today’s generation of college students has grown up with.  Students will be encouraged to share their own personal stories about the impact of war on families.  Texts will include Generation Kill, by Evan Wright; Journey from the Land of No, by Roya Akakian; War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges; and One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War, by Charles London.




(TT 11:00)


The Italian-American Odyssey (Gloria Galante)

The course will examine works of fiction, non-fiction and film that focus on times and lives of the turn of the Century Italian immigrants.  It will also look at the impact of their heritage on the  2nd and 3rd generations and the emergence of a distinct Italian-American culture.  Finally, it will examine the attitudes of the Italians, who did not leave Italy,  towards the Italian-Americans and the vast differences that exist between the two cultures.





(TT 11:00)


Volunteer Nation: The Growth of Volunteerism in America (Jennifer Fry)

 This LAS course will provide an examination of community service and volunteerism in the United States.  Possible topics include: Education and Volunteerism, Wartime Volunteers, Kennedy and the Peace Corps, the Environmental Movement, Habitat for Humanity and the impact of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.  In addition to critical reading and discussion, students will engage in service learning by completing a set number of volunteer hours for a local organization.




(TT 2:00)


Madmen and Evildoers (Jon Malesic)

The words “evildoers” and “madmen” are today used almost interchangeably.  But are people who commit evil acts truly different from the rest of us?  Are they demonic?  Or are they ordinary people reacting to extraordinary circumstances?  What does evil look like?  Where are the boundaries between good and evil, sanity and insanity?  To try to answer these questions, and to sharpen students’ critical reading skills, we will read, discuss, and write about texts from a variety of genres, including poetry (T.S. Eliot), fiction (Joseph Conrad and Tim O’Brien), and philosophy (Friedrich Nietzsche and Hannah Arendt).  We will spend a lot of time discussing intertextuality: how our understanding of a text changes when it becomes a part of another text.  To accomplish this aim, students will view and analyze the movie Apocalypse Now, which explores the issue of evil and madness and reflects, like a diamond, many of the other texts we will read.  Writing assignments will focus on the interpretation, comparison, and evaluation of the key texts and the ideas about evil they present to us.