Why study war in 21st century?
by Jenny Gerow
professor Michael Smith lectures to students at the opening
class of U.Va.s first common course, a new venture that
tackles big issues in todays world war this semester
and environmental decisions next.
Colleges new common course tackles
By Anne Bromley
400 students packed Wilson Auditorium last week for the opening
class of the Universitys first common course
on 21st Century Choices War, Justice and Human Rights.
interdisciplinary class was added just this summer, so it wasnt
in the course directory, but news spread through e-mail and word-of-mouth.
Seats were saved for first-year students who could sign up during
their summer orientation.
undergraduates were there because of the outstanding reputations
of the professors politics professor Michael Smith and
biomedical ethicist James Childress who are team-teaching
the lecture class.
had Smith before, and hes good. And Ive heard a lot
about Childress. Im fourth year, so I wanted to take him,
too, said one student sitting on the floor in the back of
were there because the topic is relevant. The just
war theory is interesting, said another student.
many gatherings around the nation have been marking the first
anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the students enrolled
in the new course are exploring the historical and political context
that led to the events in order to contemplate the future of war.
are right now in the midst of a national and international debate
about how to proceed in a war against terrorism,
Smith said. [It] has an urgent immediacy that we hope to
build on as we explore the issues with our students.
the class, Smith and Childress are co-teaching the first of at
least two common courses offered through the College
of Arts & Sciences. The class intertwines history, politics,
philosophy and religious studies to examine the topic of war broadly
through ethical and other viewpoints.
U.Va. offers many interdisciplinary courses, the common course
is a new venture that tackles big issues in todays world
war this semester, environmental decisions next semester.
It is open to first- through fourth-year students and broader
in scope than most other interdisciplinary courses.
Its a way to get American students to connect with
the larger world, Smith said.
Other common courses may be offered in the future, depending on
the success of the first two, said Arts & Sciences Dean Edward
study has been a growing trend among faculty for years, but its
not necessarily been visible or available to students, said Adam
Daniel, an assistant dean in Arts & Sciences. Faculty members
rarely team-teach with colleagues from different departments and
schools, he added.
this time of financial belt-tightening, departments are hard-pressed
to offer new incentives for faculty to be innovative. Ayers was
able to offer the common course thanks to the far-sighted
generosity of John Griffin, a Commerce School graduate who donated
funds for the project.
told him we needed to offer a course that would teach a lot of
students and be something innovative and exciting, Ayers
said. This shows how philanthropy helps the mission of the
also consider the new offering an exciting opportunity.
important for U.Va. to do creative things like this, Smith
said. It brings new energy to the curriculum, especially
at a time when we cant hire new colleagues.
Offering interdisciplinary short courses through the Institute
for Practical Ethics has paved the way for common courses, said
Childress, the institutes founding director.
thinking about the topics in more creative ways, not just entrenched
in our academic disciplines, he said. The students
will have the value of seeing faculty from different perspectives.
is working with Associate Professor of Commerce Mark A. White
on next semesters common course, Environmental Decisions.
Theyll involve other faculty members as well as visiting
have to come at topics with different questions, Childress said.
discipline is in danger of making assumptions about why things
happened. But no one branch of learning has a monopoly on a subject,
said Smith, who directs the Political and Social Thought Program,
one of the Universitys best-known interdisciplinary majors.
is the postulate of this particular course, and the common course,
to show that theres something important to be gained by
adopting more than one discipline to study a topic.