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Great Books at Oakton Community College
Great Books at Oakton Community College:
Final Report of FIPSE/NEH Grant Project,
Prepared by Helen (Lyn) Ward Page
Great Books Coordinator
1. Details of the Great Books Project and Its Growth into a Program at Oakton Community College
In the fall of 1984, Linda Korbel, dean of the Division of Languages, Humanities, and the Arts, called a meeting of those who might be interested in participating in a Great Books project. About twelve faculty responded, from a variety of disciplines. From that initial group, many agreed to meet three times in the spring of 2005, as actual course participation was begun. In addition, Marian Staats, of the English Department, agreed to coordinate the project.
During that initial semester of participation, only four Great Books classes were offered. However, due to enthusiasm generated during the faculty meetings, particularly among instructors of English, Humanities, and Philosophy, eleven classes were held in the fall of 2005. At that point, Professor Helen (Lyn) Ward Page became co-coordinator of the project, with Dr. Staats. By the spring of 2006, other professional commitments had claimed Staats’s time, and Professor Page had become sole coordinator of the project. Twelve courses were being offered, and over 300 students had completed one or two of those courses. The departments of English - composition and literature - Humanities, Philosophy, History, and Political Science had all created and offered one or more [Great Books] courses since the inception of the project.
At the end of the spring semester 2006, several significant institutional goals had also been met. Dean Korbel had agreed to future support of the project, in terms of meeting and printing expenses. The college had agreed to 1.5 LHE released time per semester for the coordinator of the program which had been created as a result of the initial grant-funded project. In addition, the web site had been developed and updated, and a brochure had been ordered which could be distributed at registration and throughout the college’s two campuses. Finally, a tracking system for Great Books students had been devised by the college’s Office of Research, with a view toward awarding the first three-course [Great Books] certificates during the academic year 2006 - 07.
Nineteen sections are scheduled for fall 2006, with three faculty meetings planned throughout the semester. Professor Page will continue to coordinate Great Books activities. Our faculty group hopes to involve more departments, and to continue Great Books participation and project expansion collegewide. In addition, we will host the next Literary Symposium, as a follow-up to the highly successful symposium on Pride and Prejudice held in March 2006 at Harold Washington College. A further collaborative effort by Great Books partners Wright College, Washington College, and Oakton, the symposium will allow talented students to read papers, with other students as respondents and audience. By fall 2006 another symposium text will have been chosen, to be taught during spring semester 2007.
2. Data concerning the Great Books Program at Oakton Community College, Spring 2005 - Spring 2007
LIST OF COURSES
Fall, 2005/Spring, 2006
Similar to 2005-2006, with more History, possibly other Social Sciences
3. Case History of the Great Books Program at Oakton Community College
When the faculty group of interested parties first met in the fall of 2004, it was evident that members of the English Department were taking a leading role. There were two primary reasons for this: first, Great Books titles are an integral part of many English courses, particularly the literature surveys; in addition, several years previously, a two-day Great Books training session in the shared inquiry method had been arranged by our reading coordinator, and completed by a dozen members of the English Department. This background knowledge of Great Books-related materials and methods continues to infuse the faculty base for the entire program.
Over time, however, the Humanities and Philosophy departments also entered the program by sending faculty members to the meetings during spring 2005, creating courses for fall 2005, and also inviting coordinators Marian Staats and Helen Ward Page to their opening department meeting for fall 2005. This turned out to be a rigorous session, during which Staats and Page defended the program and its flexibility from the assault of those who saw it as a regressive attempt to reinstitute the cultural ascendancy of “dead white males.” We assured the critics that “the list” of Great Books authors now includes female, non-Caucasian, and non-Western authors and that, further, a course need only include 50 percent Great Books, as well as a thematic emphasis, to be considered eligible for the program. Apparently our position was both clear and acceptable to many within the two departments, as they are responsible for ten of the nineteen courses scheduled for fall 2006!
Oakton has also been successful in contributing modules to the national web site in both Philosophy and English, and in providing a librarian for the entire project. The faculty members who have been involved at this level brought prior Great Books experience and interest to the project, but extensive on-site administrative support has also been a factor in generating internal enthusiasm among full and part-time faculty. Linda Korbel, dean of the Division of Languages, Humanities, and the Arts, made certain that all Great Books courses were given a limit of twenty-five students. Since an Oakton course needs a minimum of ten students to be considered viable, Great Books courses remain at an ideal size for both classroom interaction and close faculty supervision of student papers and projects. For the future, Dean Korbel has also been instrumental in gaining college commitment to 1.5 hours of course released time per semester for the Great Books coordinator. With her encouragement, other college services have been made available gratis to our program, including web site updating and maintenance; rooms and refreshments for faculty meetings; analysis of annual student survey data; and printing of student surveys and other program-related handouts.
Along with wonderful administrative support, we have enjoyed a high level of faculty interest in the shared inquiry method. A brief faculty workshop was given by Professors Page and Albano during one of the fall 2005 Great Books faculty meetings, and they will present another session during Oakton’s fall 2006 faculty orientation week. This week provides four days of mandatory meetings and optional enrichment programs for full and part-time faculty. An expanded version of the shared inquiry workshop will be among the optional sessions. Participants will receive an introduction to shared inquiry, view a brief video which illustrates the method (from a section of Professor Page’s Studies in Shakespeare course; the video is included on the national web site), and have an opportunity to prepare questions and practice their new skills with other workshop members. We hope that this session will generate further interest in the Great Books program, especially among departments such as Mathematics and the sciences, and that more new courses will be planned for spring 2007.
Overall, the growth of the Great Books program at Oakton Community College has been rapid and exponential due to a number of factors. Prior faculty knowledge, coordinator and administrator enthusiasm, and broad institutional support have been especially important. In addition, when faculty share their successes and ideas, as well as hurdles overcome, their excitement can be infectious. One English Department faculty member has used The Iliad as a basis for essays and research projects on the theme of war and peace in several sections of Composition II; her delighted report on the results has led another English instructor to plan two sections of Composition I which use texts as far afield as Kafka and Emily Dickinson to explore themes of consciousness and the nature of knowledge. And as Kurt Vonnegut so accurately observed, ". . .so it goes"!