- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

Students at Georgetown University this year can take a class called "The Bible and Horror," which seeks to answer the question: "What might religion and horror (or the monstrous) have in common?"
According to the course description at the private Catholic school, the Bible "can be a scary book" that "often reads more like horror than religious literature."
Those currently enrolled at Maine's Bowdoin College can spend their tuition dollars on a women's studies course that asks this question as its central theme: "Is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony a marvel of abstract architecture culminating in a gender-free paean to human solidarity, or does it model the process of rape?"
Both obscure courses, straight from academe's nether regions, made the 2000 Dirty Dozen list of the Young America's Foundation's most-ridiculous college courses. The Herndon, Va., foundation, which promotes conservative ideas and speakers on college campuses, compiles the list as a heads-up for parents who may have no clue what their children are studying.
"It is very important that not only parents recognize what is being taught on college campuses, but taxpayers as well," says YAF program officer Rick Parsons. "They really are paying for this, whether through federal funding or student loans. That's not only at the state universities, but at the private universities as well."
The Dirty Dozen list is taken from an annual YAF report called Comedy and Tragedy: Course Descriptions and What They Tell Us About Higher Education Today. The full report, available next week on the Internet at www.yaf.org, looks at course offerings at public, private and religiously affiliated schools.
Using the U.S. News & World Report Top 50 schools rankings, YAF officials reviewed 56 college and university catalogs this year. Paring down the multitude of "trendy, bizarre and politically biased" courses was difficult, Mr. Parsons said.
Other classes making the Dirty Dozen list included:
University of Texas: "Race and Sport in African-American Life" The class looks at "how sports have been used to justify and promote antiquated, eugenic and ultimately racist notions of blackness."
Harvard University: "Feminist Biblical Interpretation" The class concentrates on "the significance of feminist hermeneutics for contemporary theological reflection and education for ministry."
Carnegie Mellon University: "Sex and Death" The course ponders the question of "whether we need to liberate death now that (maybe) we have figured sex out."
University of Virginia: "Marxism: What Is to Be Learned From It?" Marx's work is the "standard against which all subsequent social thought must be judged," and "it's worth devoting an entire semester to it."
Cornell University: "Bodies Politic: Queer Theory and Literature of the Body" The class examines such questions as "How do concepts of perversion and degeneration haunt the idea of the social body?" and "How are individual bodies stigmatized, encoded and read within the social sphere?"
UCLA: "Death, Suicide and Trauma" Students can study "definition and taxonomy of death; new permissiveness and taboos related to death; romanticization of death; role of individual in his own demise; modes of death; development of ideas of death through life … partial death, megadeath; lethally psychological autopsy; death of institutions and cultures."
"There's just so many outrageous courses offered on every college campus," Mr. Parsons said. "What it says about these schools is that they are not open to true intellectual diversity, and their faculty has a narrow-minded ideology that they want to get through to their students."
Win Myers, communications director at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., says parents ought not be surprised at some of the academically flimsy classes funded by $30,000 tuitions for their sons and daughters. Such classes are commonplace.
"Self-evidently absurd courses reveal the extent to which careerism has displaced teaching on many elite campuses," said Mr. Myers, whose organization will publish its own guide to colleges in November. "Such offerings are designed not to teach students but to advance the careers of professors, who are rewarded for the appearance of being 'cutting edge.'
"If professors used to compete for students by offering dynamic teaching, they now compete for headlines and the monetary awards fame can bring by peddling intellectually vacuous material," he said. "Such courses rob students of an opportunity to become broadly educated."

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