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By Gerry Boyle '78
Want to see Robert McArthur (philosophy) wax as enthusiastic about his classes as any first-year student? Get him talking about the integrated studies Program, more specifically the cluster he helped teach called The Post-War World, 1945-1970. "It's fabulous," McArthur said recently. "I'm sitting in class with Rob Weisbrot [history], who's an expert on a number of things, among them the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, and listening to him talk about Vietnam while we're reading the philosopher Michael Walzer on the 'just war theory.' Hearing the history of the Vietnam War and then reading a philosophical work on war and ethical dilemmas. And then with John Sweney [English], we're reading Vietnam War novels . . ."
McArthur, professor of philosophy and Christian A. Johnson Professor of Integrative Liberal Learning and director of integrated studies, loved the course (offered in 1998) and the "cluster" format, in which students take courses in different subjects that simultaneously examine a period or theme. Students have been so enamored of the experience that advanced-level courses have been added to the first-year offerings begun five years ago. Demand for the first-year clusters is such that students now are admitted to the courses based on the merit of an essay.
The Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation recently renewed its commitment to the integrated studies Program with a $1-million grant, bringing the foundation's total support for Integrated Studies to $2.5 million. "It really makes this program very secure," McArthur said. The grant will add to the program's endowment and allow for development of new integrated courses, he said. Now being considered: a course cluster on The Ancient World that could include courses in philosophy, literature, history and dramaand a Jan Plan in Greece.
While the cluster-course offerings have expandedincluding Women in the Pre-Modern World, Enlightenment and Revolution, and Gender and Sexualities, East and Westsince the program was launched five years ago, the premise has not. The idea is to help students see issues from several points of view and to build bridges between different parts of programs. For first-year students, clusters have included English 115 and a laboratory science; participants emerged particularly adept at a sort of "science journalism," McArthur said.
Students have been enthusiastic about the clusters, not only for the knowledge imparted in the courses themselves but also for the way they served as guideposts for further study. Students who were in a cluster in 1997taught by Weisbrot, Paul Machlin (music), Charles Bassett (American studies) and Charles Conover (physics and astronomy) met with their professors last year for a reunion dinner and pronounced Integrated Studies a linchpin of their Colby experience.
Two advanced clusters were offered this year, and more combinations of disciplines are being examined, McArthur said. The new grant ensures that the opportunities for making connections will continue and expand. "To some extent it's timely because of these trends that have splintered knowledge into disciplines, and there is no coming together except in courses like this," he said.
The Colby Difference: The Inauguration of William D. Adams
Nuclear Fiction: Daniel Traister '63 Delves Into the Fiction of World War II
The Hot Zone and the Cold War: Frank Malinoski '76 Investigates Biological Warfare
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