Magazine article Insight on the News

Deviating from the Syllabus

Magazine article Insight on the News

Deviating from the Syllabus

Article excerpt

What should students do when professors present offensive lectures irrelevant to a course?

An "A" student is asking Eastern Illinois University for a refund after completing a course in non-Western music that she claims taught her little about music but lots about sexual deviance.

April Hixson, 30, told university officials they should return her $364.33 in tuition because much of the material covered in class was irrelevant to the course description in the official catalog. Music 3562C is supposed to expose students to Asian, African and South American folk and art music. Instead, says Hixson, she was confronted with numerous examples of "controversial artistic expression," including images of two men drinking enemas and a man who supposedly had amputated his penis.

Hixson's complaint highlights a larger question concerning higher education: How do courses that include such material contribute to the body of knowledge students should know?

"We're amazed how much of this goes on at most public universities, at most of the Ivy League [schools], at most of the so-called `elite' institutions," says Jim Taylor of the Young America's Foundation, who edited this year's compendium of "crazy courses" at the nation's colleges.

Course professor Doug DiBianco "devoted so much time to pursuing what can easily be recognized as a personal, often whimsical, sociopolitical agenda, the majority of our lecture time was devoted to issues other than non-Western music," complains Hixson. University administrators are taking Hixson's assertions "very seriously" according to spokesperson Shelly Flock, and are willing to meet with her in person to "explore how the university might respond to her concerns."

DiBianco, a tenured professor of fine arts, defended his decision to introduce students to "radical" works. "They're part of my discussion of aesthetics, or the definition of art," he says. "What are the boundaries of art? Does it always have to be pretty, or can it be raunchy, ugly and disgusting?"

The enema picture, for example, came from Amos Vogel's book, Film as a Subversive Art, which discusses some recent extreme movies, says DiBianco. He also defends the class time he took to describe a show by performance artist Annie Sprinkle, which featured her inserting a large transparent tube into her vagina for the benefit of audience members below the stage. …

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