Course Descriptions, Spring 2020
More information on courses, including weekly schedule and recommended readings, can be found as indicated at the end of each description.
All courses are canceled, due to the covid-19 virus.


Richard Collman: The Pipe Organ—King of Instruments

8 Mondays (Mar. 23 – May 11), 9:30-11:30
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Northfield
Enrollment limit: 18

Why did Mozart label the pipe organ “the king of instruments”?  This course will look at the long history of the pipe organ from Roman times to the present, acquaint us with sounds and sights of it, and have “up close” encounters with a machine that long ago was the “computer” of its age in complexity. Not only found in churches, organs may also be heard in theatres, ball parks, and on merry-go-rounds. The class will do an “organ crawl” to different instruments in Northfield, possibly visit an organ factory, and might even assemble a tiny model to see how organs work. No previous musical experience is necessary.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Collman

Richard F. Collman is a retired minister-musician whose career has involved the pipe organ for over 50 years.  He has served in leadership roles for all ages in the American Guild of Organists, teaches organ, plays recitals, and started the Northfield Noontime Organ Recitals summer series in 2007.  He has taught numerous and varied CVEC courses over the last decade.


Dan Van Tassel: Thomas Hardy – Novelist and Poet

8 Mondays (Mar. 23 – May 11), 9:30-11:30
Village on the Cannon
Enrollment limit: 20

In this course it will be our pleasure to read and discuss two of Hardy’s great novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure.  The title characters both encounter various strains of Christianity and counterfeit Christianity in a quest to define true morality, which for Hardy is synonymous with charity. Here the author’s descriptive and visionary powers are at their height and tug at our imagination and soul. We will witness the evocative Wessex landscapes replete with wildlife, dairy farms and fields, country churches, haunting legendary artifacts and architecture, as well as the glorified city of Christminster and surrounding cathedral towns; the rhythm of passing seasons and the transitioning of folk from venerable old ways and traditions into the vicissitudes of the modern world; characters, main and minor alike, realistically limned and worthy of our empathy, playing out absorbing story lines tracing their fateful destinies; and ever-present reliance on just the right words, convincing dialogue, fitting imagery and expansive allusions together with telling narrative commentary. We will also get acquainted with a sampling of Hardy’s poetry, in which he poignantly and artfully registers regret at the loss of peace or love or faith.

For further information, go to cvec.org/VanTassel

Dan Van Tassel, grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from St. Olaf College, and earned graduate degrees from the University of Iowa.  He taught at Concordia College, Pacific Lutheran University, Cal State San Marcos, and Muskingum College, where he served as academic dean and professor of English.  Previous Elder Collegium courses taught include Humor, Poetry 101, The British Isles, Sonnets and Soliloquies, and most recently American Nature Writers.



Barbara Evans: Just Wright

8 Mondays (Mar. 23 – May 11), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon
Enrollment limit: 18

Frank Lloyd Wright changed American architecture.  His tumultuous life and his re-imagining of an American architecture has interested many CVEC students in classes that included FLW as a part of the topic, but this class will have a singular focus on FLW and what he accomplished along with his personal life looming large in the telling of his story.  This class will take a chronological approach to his life and work. Anyone who has toured a Wright house or commercial building will get a chance to share that with the class. We will be using Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R Drennan as our text.

 Some new research adds to the body of what is known about the significant events in Wright’s life and how events and people have influenced his work. Photographs and testimonials will give students a virtual touring experience.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Evans

Barbara Evans taught American literature, drama, debate, and composition in Rochester, MN for 34 years. She is a graduate of and has been a visiting professor at St. Olaf College, teaching public speaking and first year writing.  Her interests include architecture, literary and architecture-based travel, photography, and renovation of her Arts and Crafts home in Northfield.


Walt Stromseth: The Vice Squad – Pride (Vainglory), Anger (Wrath), Envy, Greed (Avarice), Lust, Gluttony, Sloth

8 Tuesdays (Mar. 24 – May 12), 10:00-noon
FiftyNorth 106
Enrollment limit: 18

Our Western heritage of Greek and Christian reflection on human virtues and vices provides an ethical framework for assessing our present quality of life. This course will examine the negative role and current relevance of these vices in our personal and collective lives as Americans. We will focus on the extent to which our membership in American society invites these vices, as well as the difficulty of developing their opposing virtues in our current culture. As traits of character or dispositions that find expression in personal attitudes and social interactions, these persistent vices undermine our well-being as persons and as a people. Critical awareness of, and resistance to, their distorting influence is vital to our attaining a more fully human and fulfilling way of life.

The course will consider a specific vice each week, with a brief reading as a basis for extended class discussion.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Stromseth

Walt Stromseth is a retired professor at St. Olaf, where he taught in both the Departments of Philosophy and Religion. He developed a late interest in ethical approaches, both Western and non-Western, that emphasize the virtues or personal character in the conduct of moral life.



Karen Gervais: The Basics of Bioethics

8 Wednesdays (Mar. 25 – May 13), 9:30-11:30
FiftyNorth 106
Enrollment limit: 18

Bioethics, sometimes called Biomedical Ethics, is a constantly evolving field of disputed issues and methods of ethical analysis. We will begin with an introduction to ethical theory and a brief history of the field, followed by study and discussion of these topics: moral status (defining death, abortion, animal welfare), patient benefit and harm, patient autonomy and informed consent, killing vs allowing to die, patient decision-making capacity and surrogate decision-makers, healthcare resource allocation, transplantation, human subjects research, and genetics and birth technologies.  We will use a text designed especially for a course of this kind, The Basics of Bioethics, edition 4, by Veatch and Guidry-Grimes.  Additional materials will be provided by email.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Gervais

Karen Grandstrand Gervais is director of the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics.  She is experienced in clinical ethics and health policy, was Visiting Professor of Science, Technology and Policy Studies at Carleton, and was a visiting member of St. Olaf’s philosophy department from 1972-74 and 1989-2017. Her scholarship is on the definition of death, end of life issues, ethics and managed care, cross-cultural ethics, disaster ethics, and aging/frailty ethical issues.


Eric Nelson: Immigrants and Refugees in Film

8 Wednesdays (Mar. 25 – May 13), 9:30-11:30
Nygaard Theater
Enrollment limit: 20

In this course we will explore the experiences of immigrants and refugees portrayed in stories that span a century. A German “postal bride” comes to a small Norwegian community in southern Minnesota following WWI and is greeted with hostility and suspicion. A young Irish woman newly arrived in Brooklyn in the 1950s is torn between the claims of the family she left behind and her new life in America. In the early 1980s a Mayan brother and sister flee the violence of Guatemala on a perilous journey through Mexico to California. In contemporary Manhattan, a modest act of generosity entangles a reclusive college professor in the fate of an undocumented Syrian man and his Senegalese girlfriend.

We will examine these movies primarily through discussion, viewing a film in class one week and discussing it the next week.

A repeat of a course offered in the fall term of 2019.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Nelson

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson is an emeritus Professor of English at St Olaf College, where he taught film studies as well.  He has offered courses in cinema in the Elder Collegium for more than a decade.



Larry Richie: History Along the Straight River

6 Wednesdays (Mar. 25 – Apr. 29), 9:30-11:30
Rice Co. Historical Society, Faribault
Enrollment limit: 18

Rivers play important functions in the regions through which they flow, in both geological and anthropological terms. This course will consider a six mile stretch of the Straight River in central Rice County, looking at geological features and at archeological discoveries of the instructor, in particular his collection of stone tools and bison bones. These details in turn will tell us about the lives of early people who lived in this area, the Dakota Indians and nineteenth century traders, notably Alexander Faribault.

Reading material will include archeological studies in Southern Minnesota, chapters of books on Glaciers in Minnesota, and articles on how animal bones have been preserved by nature for thousands of years.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Richie

Larry Richie is a farmer who has spent a lifetime studying the history of the land and the people who have lived along the Straight River.  He has found bison bones over 3,000 years old on his farm and 2,500 year-old bones of bison that were butchered. He has worked with Nerstrand Charter School and Cannon Valley STEM School to help develop a curriculum based on local history and the environment. He is the author of the book FootSteps Along the Straight River.


Steve Strand: Income and Wealth Inequality

8 Thursdays (Mar. 26 – May 14), 9:30-11:30
Village on the Cannon
Enrollment limit: 18

Over the last forty years, income and wealth inequality has increased dramatically in the United States. For Example, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published in English in 2014, demonstrated both that economic inequality had increased in America and that it would likely continue to worsen absent significant changes in economic policy.  This course will examine three of the most important explanations for America’s increasing economic inequality: technological change, globalization and international trade, and changes in tax policy.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Strand

Steve Strand is Raymond Plank Professor of incentive Economics, Emeritus at Carleton College.  Before retiring in 2015, he taught courses in the Economics of the European Union, the Political Economy of the Turkish Republic, Turkey and the European Union, a two-term course in Accounting and Management Science, and, in 2014, a seminar on Piketty’s Capital for interested Carleton staff, current faculty, and retired faculty. In 2013, Steve spent a term as an Affiliate Visiting Professor at Georgetown University’s McGhee Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies in Alanya, Turkey. He has led undergraduate programs to Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Paris, and Cambridge University in England.



John Matthews: The Holocaust and the Churches

6 Thursdays (Mar. 26 – May 21 [not Apr. 23] and 2 Tuesdays, Apr. 14 and 28), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon
Enrollment limit: 18

This course is designed to discuss and learn about the Holocaust of the 20th century in Europe, specifically as it impacted, co-opted and used the Christian Churches. After some introductory presentation on the history of the Holocaust, each session will deal with a particular aspect of the Church’s complicity in and resistance to the attempted annihilation of Europe’s Jews. Aspects include the ‘cooperation’ of the Church institutions, the ‘coordination’ of the theological faculties in the universities, the latent and explicit anti-Judaism in Christian tradition and anti-Semitism in Western civilization, and the exceptional situations where Christians and churches sought to rescue persons at risk.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Matthews

John Matthews is an ELCA pastor and an adjunct instructor at Augsburg University. He is the past President of the International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section and author of two books about the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He and his wife Patty live in Apple Valley, Minnesota.


Sandy Johnson: Numbers in the News – How  to Understand Data Analytics Even if You Hate Math

8 Fridays (Mar. 27 – May15), 9:30-11:30
FiftyNorth 106
Enrollment limit: 18

Every day we hear and read facts and interpretations that are “supported” by statistics, or in more modern terminology, “data analytics.” But not all statistics are created equal, and not all of them demonstrate what they are purported to prove.

You don’t need to be a math nerd to be better at understanding and evaluating what you read.  You do need an appreciation of the assumptions that lie underneath the math and of the ways statistics can help us make good decisions.

Reading for the course will include Naked Statistics:  Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan. Also suggested (for those who do want to read about the math) is How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg. Discussion material will come from data generated in class and from recent newspaper and internet reports. There will also be a few classic studies presented in class. Participants will be encouraged to bring examples and questions for discussion.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Johnson

Sandy Johnson was on the Research Faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle before she became a Minister (and served First UCC in Northfield for 13 years). She taught classes in human development and research methods and conducted research on parent-child interaction in families with infants and toddlers.



Sharon Flaten: Great Decisions 2020
6 Fridays (Mar. 27; Apr. 3, 10, 24; May 1, 8), 1:30-3:30
Village on the Cannon
Enrollment limit: 25  The course will focus on six current issues of global importance based on the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions program. The course will include the FPA’s Briefing Book, expert guest speakers, A/V presentations, and “cameo” comments and informal conversation with Bob Flaten. The six topics for this year are as follows:   Climate Change and the Global Order; India and Pakistan; Red Sea Security; US Relations with the Northern Triangle; China’s Role to Latin America; Artificial Intelligence and Data. The FPA Briefing Book will cost $25; it will be available for pick-up at VOC before the first class, at a date to be shared later with class members.

For further information, go to cvec.org/Flaten

Sharon Flaten was born in Calgary, Alberta, and has bachelor’s degrees from Concordia College Nebraska and Wayne State University and an MA in educational psychology from Eastern Michigan University.  She is retired from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and has coordinated Great Decisions discussions in Stillwater and in Northfield since 2006.