Professors have freedom to construct their own coursesBy Emily Williams | 09/10/2014 12:57am
Anil Mujumdar, a practicing lawyer in Birmingham and adjunct professor in the American studies department, created a class about the year 1964, which explores civil rights, social justice, music and culture.
Mujumdar said he has other ideas for classes he might want to teach in the future, but the 1964 class is special because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the events he is teaching about.
“What is particularly interesting to me in teaching it is that a lot of the events and people that we’re talking about are close to the same age as the students in the class,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting to see if college students now think the same as students 50 years ago or are there lessons to be learned? Are there issues that are out there today that require the same sense of social engagement? Or was that a unique time?”
Last summer he brought the idea for the new course to Dr. Lynne Adrian, chair of the American studies department.
“We’re an interdisciplinary department, and we use methods of many different areas to study American culture, so it’s easy to find new ways of looking at things,” Adrian said. “It’s unlike something in chemistry or biology where there’s a fairly rigid sequence of courses. So I think that makes it easier to create courses.”
Adrian said almost every class in the department has been created by a faculty member.
When a faculty member comes to her with an idea for a course, the class is offered as a special topics course for one semester. If the class is popular, it is incorporated into the curriculum.
Lauren Chase, an American studies major and president of the American studies club, has taken several courses created by faculty, including American Gangster Films with Larry Fagen; American Tourism with Jeff Melton; Americans Abroad with Jeff Melton; and American Pop Music with Eric Weisbard.
“Some of the most interesting classes I’ve taken here at the University have been unique courses specially created by professors,” Chase said. “The professors are so obviously passionate about what they’re teaching, and you as a student can’t help but become absorbed into their sphere of all-encompassing contagious intrigue.”
Chase said the narrow focus of the specialized classes have taught her to look for connections between events in history and modern culture that aren’t always obvious.
“Each registration cycle, I look out for these kinds of courses,” Chase said. “The enthusiastic professors, relatively flexible course structures and fascinating topics really inspire true learning.”