- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

A college course that classifies rich white men as "a minority" and analyzes their power structure has become a topic of debate among educators who are arguing about the class's academic value.
The course, "Wealthy White Males," being taught this fall at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, explores how the "small but clearly impressive minority" came to garner influence and what forces in society help ensure they hold on to it.
Rich white men run Wall Street and Congress, so the group needs to be studied in order for students to understand American society and culture, said Channa Newman, a cultural-studies professor who teaches the course.
"Since we're interested in knowing how society functions, this group seems to be a pretty important group to study," Miss Newman said.
"It's not about white males. We're just trying to understand the role of wealthy white males, what their role is in shaping our lives. These are the things that would be nice to know."
The problem with the "Wealthy White Males" course is that academics are divided on whether they qualify as a minority, critics say.
"It sounds like it's one of those goofy victimization courses," said Krista Kafer, senior policy analyst for education at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "What's probably being taught is the same old mantra of white men ruling the world."
Others argue such courses have no academic value.
"This is all about entertaining people," said Casey Lartigue, an education-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, an independent libertarian think tank in Washington. "This is most likely not the form of higher education people expect to get."
The course exemplifies a trend at college campuses, where professors are beginning to offer more courses that explore "whiteness," its culture and power structure.
With titles such as "Critical Perspectives on Whiteness" and "Whiteness, Ethnicity, and Multi-Culturalism," most such classes require students to define whiteness and examine how the movement has been defined in relation to color and race.
"The movement is definitely developing and growing," said Rick Parsons, program office with the Young America's Foundation, a conservative educational group in Virginia. "Academics have been teaching those ideas for a number of years, and I don't see the trend diminishing one bit."
Over the past few years, "white studies" has become an academic industry. About 200 books have been written on the topic, and several universities have sponsored conferences on whiteness, and more are planned.
"It's an important group to study simply because it has such power," said Peter Stearns, a social historian and provost at George Mason University in Fairfax.
Mr. Stearns said the Pittsburgh college's class "sounds like a serious course, particularly because we've seen signs of inequality in wealth, separation from rich to rest of society." It would be worth inquiring if the white males developed a separate culture, he said.
There are no tests in Miss Newman's class. Fifty percent of the grade is based on research projects, with the remainder coming from a survey and interviews the students are being asked to conduct.
The class reading list includes "The Power Elite," a 1956 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills, and "Power Politics," written by Arundhati Roy.
Given the reading assignments and topic of study, the class is less a study of a minority than a "rehashing of old theories about elites, their circles of power and the consequences of their actions," said Winfield Myers, an education analyst with the Democracy Project, a new educational-assessment and outreach organization in Wilmington, Del.
Mr. Myers said Mrs. Roy argues against so-called "globalization" and Mr. Mills argues that success in modern societies is predicated on immorality and corruption.
"If these assertions form the intellectual foundation of the class, then students will not learn about the dynamism of modern American culture, nor about its unequalled ability to assimilate people from all over the world and provide opportunities for anyone who desires to improve their lot," Mr. Myers said.
"Rather, they'll contemplate dusty, deterministic theories from the era of Dr. Strangelove and self-righteous indignation from a woman who's international fame rests upon the very system she condemns."
But the intent of the course is not to bash men or spread a certain ideology, Miss Newman said. "It doesn't matter to me what conclusion a student reaches," she said. "What matters is that they are thinking about these things."

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