Contemporary's the Catchword on Campuses

Article excerpt

When college students browse course catalogs for electives, they whiz past ancient history to contemporary issues such as sex, business, the arts, ethnicity and religion. If the professors have big names, good stories or dry humor, so much the better.

In a Washington University course on business and government, Murray Weidenbaum and Thomas Eagleton tilt gleefully from more or less opposite political views.

At Maryville University, Dennis Shea sprinkles his human-sexuality lectures with references to his son, his niece and the transsexual he once saw as a patient.

At Webster University, Christopher Parr takes on everything from rock stars ("Nothing there") to tummy rolls in Indian art ("How enlightened!") in an upper-level course on Buddhism.

Students scramble to sign up for these instructors' classes. Often, they've heard about the professor. Sometimes, they're intrigued by a course description. Only occasionally, they're lured by a light workload.

What with limited enrollment in most college classes, the popular ones fill within days, if not hours. To Chris Hagner, a junior at Washington University, the key to a popular course is simple: "It keeps your interest. No one falls asleep."

A sampling of the most popular electives this season at six universities here shows some overlap: human sexuality at Maryville and Southern Illinois University, introductory art at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and St. Louis University, film aesthetics or criticism at SLU and Webster.

These are some other favorites:

SLU - the philosophy of human nature and finance real estate.

SIUE - jazz, meteorology, ethics, child and adolescent psychology, personality adjustment, race and ethnic relations, and marriage and the family.

UMSL - Introduction to criminology and the art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

All of these courses show a common thread: They are rooted in the here and now. Students can use the insights from them not only in business and at art museums and theaters, but to enrich their world view.

In the Buddhism class at Webster, for example, Parr said, "students tend to respond to contemporary aspects. In that way, they reflect the American emphasis on the now rather than the past."

He added, "One of the things I try to do is get them to use the contemporary to reflect on the historical and then reflect back on the contemporary."

At SIUE, many popular classes also are geared to individuals and relationships, noted Richard Dremuk, an assistant vice president. He connected that to the trend among students away from business and toward occupations such as social work, teaching and health fields. …