Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Buyer Beware?

Annual tuition at Occidental, a private college, is $32,800. That means if you take "The Phallus" and "Blackness" (plus its prerequisite "Whiteness") this year on a four-course-per-semester schedule, you will have set your parents back $12,300.
Set your parents back? Could someone say the same thing for theology?

Trendy courses proliferate, certainly at small, private universities (including mine). Something, though, has been lost in listing "America's Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses." The author of these studies assumes that professors make up these course, that they are a huge waste of time, and contribute nothing to the students' formation. But seeing trends in history, traditional courses (say "France, 1815 to 1945") have been disappearing because of dropping attendance, not faculty choices. On the other hand, professors struggle to come up with appealing courses with zippy titles that attract students. It's worth asking whether the faculty or the student body drives these trends. I would tend to think it's a buyer's market: students get courses that suit their interests more often than professors provide courses they think students need.

At its roots, however, this list is an attempt to devalue cultural studies. There appears to be no attempt to evaluate how the courses further students' knowledge of a discipline or perfect their skills therein.