May 15, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 16

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    Grant to help formulate more BIG PROBLEMS

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    A capstone curriculum for third- and fourth-years in the College called Big Problems just got a big boost. The program, which offers interdisciplinary, team-taught courses that confront “big problems”–problems of universal or global concern without an obvious solution–received a $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

    Program founder William Wimsatt, Professor in Philosophy and the College, said the foundation grant could help expand the program–which started with three courses in Fall Quarter, 1999–to 10 or more class offerings per year within the next year.

    The grant will enable the program to offer new curricular grants to faculty members who want to develop Big Problems Capstone courses. Curricular proposals for grants of $1,000 to $3,000 are now being accepted for new interdisciplinary, team-taught courses to be offered in the 2004-05 academic year.

    In its fourth year, the Big Problems Capstone Program takes advantage of the University’s forte, interdisciplinary teaching and research, Wimsatt said. “The idea of Big Problems is to give everyone a problem they leave here knowing something about,” said Wimsatt, “that goes far beyond their individual and disciplinary interests.” And Wimsatt added, “This is moral as well as intellectual therapy. It could help students become better scientists, humanists, professionals and world citizens.”

    The program, directed by Margot Browning, who also is Associate Director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, already offers about seven courses each year across different subject areas of the University. This year’s courses, for example, are “Biological and Cultural Evolution,” “Psychoneuroimmunology,” “Is Development Sustainable?” “Globalization and Neo-liberalism,” “Military Theory and Practice,” “Rewriting the Past: Narrative, Ritual, Monument,” “On Love: Text and Context,” and “War.”

    In addition to supporting curricular development, the $200,000 grant will provide support for such ongoing components of the program as research grants for faculty who are teaching courses and grants for visiting lecturers to present at the Big Problems speaker series. The grant also will support a new program component to bring senior visiting professors to campus from the Midwest Faculty Seminar colleges to participate in teaching Big Problems Capstone courses.

    The program’s Advisory Board, appointed by the College, includes Shadi Bartsch, Professor and Chairman of Classical Languages & Literatures; Alan Kolata, the Neukom Family Professor and Chairman of Anthropology; Martha McClintock, the David Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology; Sidney Nagel, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in Physics; Robert Perlman, Professor in Pediatrics and Neurobiology; William Sterner, Lecturer in Computer Science and the Physical Sciences Collegiate Division; and ex officio members Elizabeth Chandler, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning; James Chandler, the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in English Language & Literature and Director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities; and Susan Gzesh, Director of the Human Rights Program.

    The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, located in Jacksonville, Fla., award grants for private higher education, secondary education and graduate theological education; health care; and public television. The higher education grants aim to strengthen teaching in liberal arts colleges and research universities.

    For more information about the Big Problems Capstone curriculum, contact Browning, the program’s Executive Director, at 702-5657, m-browning@uchicago.edu, or Wimsatt at w-wimsatt@uchicago.edu.