Course Descriptions: Spring 2021

More information on most courses, including schedule and recommended readings, can be found online as indicated at the end of each description.

All courses will be presented online. Learn more about equipment you’ll need for online learning.

All courses begin the week of March 29.

John Robison: Key Modern U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

8 Mondays (March 29 – May 17), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Most people are aware of the results of important U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but few non-lawyers understand how and why the Court reached those conclusions.  The primary purpose of this course is to explain and discuss the legal reasoning and analysis behind those cases.  Was the Court right?  In the process, we will address the role of the Court in our government and our society. 

We will also address three continuing themes: Should the issue in this case be resolved by the Court or by the legislature?  Does this opinion follow the law, or just reflect the desired outcome of the Justice who wrote it?  Is the Constitution alive or dead? 

Each participant should have access to a copy of the Constitution and purchase a paperback copy of Michael G. Trachtman’s The Supremes’ Greatest Hits (2016 edition; available at Content and online for about $13), which provides a nice overview of most of the cases we will be discussing.  However, it will not be necessary to read all of the cases.  The instructor will recommend certain opinions as interesting reading for those who wish to do so.  The opinions are available online for no charge from several sources. 

This is a repeat of a course offered in 2019-2020.

For further information, click here

John Robison was a business lawyer for 41 years, spending most of that time in Madison, Wisconsin.  He followed U.S. Supreme Court decisions during that time as a hobby.

Eric Nelson: Women in Movies

8 Mondays (March 29-May 17), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

A successful Hollywood actress wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times titled, “I Don’t Want to Be the Strong Female Lead.” Because movies are shaped by executives and directors who are primarily men, she wrote, even actresses in leading roles are seldom able to portray “femininity itself – empathy, vulnerability, listening – as valuable, essential, powerful.” Instead, we get “exaggerated performances of [gender stereotypes] that cause harm to all.” “How,” she asks, “do we restore balance?”

Is her claim valid? In this course we will examine films that interrogate the familiar masculine/feminine binary: The Passion of Joan of Arc (silent, 1928), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney, animated, 1937), The Lady Eve (screwball comedy, 1941), Sunset Boulevard (film noir, 1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Sound of Music (1965), and Little Women (2019).

For further information click here

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.

Carol Rutz: Three Comic Academic Novels

8 Tuesdays (March 30-May 18), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

As a genre, comic academic novels tend to send up some middle-aged loser (usually a male professor from an English department) in the throes of personal and professional crisis. Mid-life angst? Elitist whining? The symptoms vary, yet the protagonist’s absurd situation is a constant—as are the empathic and outraged emotions evoked in readers. All of them feature racy passages that serve as plot devices.

Our three novels: David Lodge’s Changing Places (1975), Richard Russo’s Straight Man (1997), and Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members (2014). We will be attentive to the authors (two men, one woman; one British, two American) and to the political, gender, and academic contexts for each book.

For further information, click here

Carol Rutz retired in 2017 after 30 years at Carleton College, having led the Writing Program for 20 years.

Gerald Hoekstra: Bach’s Church Music

8 Tuesdays (March 30-May 18), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

When Johann Sebastian Bach landed the post of Director of Music for the churches of Leipzig in 1723, he finally arrived in a position that allowed him to develop to the fullest his talents as a composer of church music. Chief among Bach’s responsibilities in Leipzig was to provide music for the choirs of the city’s four main churches, and between 1723 and 1728 he produced five yearly cycles of cantatas, as well as many other sacred works. This body of music contains some of the richest and most beautiful music in all of the sacred repertory.

In this class we will examine Bach’s sacred music in the context of the composer’s life, Lutheran theology and liturgy of the time, and communal life in early eighteenth-century Leipzig. Preparation for class will involve listening to selections of music and short readings. Participants must have access to a computer and the internet.

This is a repeat of a course last offered in 2018-19.

For further information, click here

Gerald Hoekstra taught music history at St. Olaf College for 33 years before his retirement in 2014. In addition to teaching classroom courses in in music history, he directed the St. Olaf Early Music Singers and the Collegium Musicum, ensembles that performed music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Eras.

Karen Gervais: Issues in Bioethics: Clinical and Public Health Ethics

8 Wednesdays (March 31-May 19), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Our current pandemic emphasizes everyone’s dual potential as victim and vector, as well as the societal impacts of severe infectious disease. In such a time, ethicists contribute to health policy formation to guide scarce resource access and allocation for the good of us all (e.g., ventilators, convalescent plasma, and vaccine), and advocate at the bedside for the fair consideration and compassionate care of individual patients. After an introduction to healthcare ethics, our focal issues will include: clinical ethics principles and rules of thumb; patient autonomy and decision-making quandaries; the definition of death; culturally-responsive healthcare; and balancing competing ethical principles to ration scarce healthcare resources for the good of us all in a severe pandemic.

For further information, click here

Karen Gervais directs the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics in St. Paul. She has 50+ years of experience as a college professor and 30+ years as a clinical, organizational, and health policy ethicist.

Barbara Evans: Frank Lloyd Wright: By the Book

8 Wednesdays (March 31-May 19), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Reading and studying the book, Plagued By Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, will expose participants to a more sympathetic treatment and a deeper understanding of this complicated man. No previous knowledge of FLW or architecture is required. Paul Hendrickson has done the research necessary to put together a fresh look at Wright’s life, vision, and tragedies. Class participants will have opportunities to share their experiences in FLW spaces and also to take virtual and arm chair tours. Discussion will focus on the assigned readings, which uncover new knowledge of Wright’s life story and unimaginable professional setbacks. Our class will study topics in the order presented in our text (see session list). We will examine buildings as they fit into the contents of this book, which will complement or may even challenge what has been previously known about FLW’s life and the events that shaped it.

Text: Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright by Paul Hendrickson, published in 2019. Paperback is available at Content for $18.00.

For further information, click here

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 (particularly the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright), photography, and renovation of her Arts and Crafts home here in Northfield.

Sam Temple: A Beautiful Dream: Alexander Faribault and the Founding of Minnesota

8 Thursdays (April 1-May 20), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

“When I think of the early days of this place and then look around, it seems to be a beautiful dream.”

-Alexander Faribault, 1882

In the year 1855, the community of Faribault was platted in the Minnesota Territory. For enigmatic, part-Dakota trader Alexander Faribault, the dream he built in that year would be put to the test. In a journey that spans the 19th century–the Dakota genocide, the heroism of everyday people, and the formation of a State—this course will examine how suffering, triumph, growth, and love shaped our community. Classes will be a mixture of lecture and discussion and will incorporate clips from the instructor’s documentaries and stage production depicting the historic events.

For further information, click here

Sam Temple currently works as Station Manager for Northfield Public Broadcasting, and previously taught for the Elder Collegium with Logan Ledman. With Ledman, he produces the history documentary series 1855. Temple lives with his family in Faribault, where he currently serves on the Heritage Preservation Commission and Planning Commission.

David Sauer: U.S. National Security Policy Foundation and Future

8 Thursdays (April 1-May 20), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Discussion of the history of U.S. National Security Policy from the end of World War II to the present day will be the focus of the course. Initial sessions will focus on the Cold War and the origins and structure of the current government security apparatus. Concluding classes will consider current security concerns facing the United States including a revisionist Russia, nuclear armed North Korea and Iran, China, counter-terrorism and cyber. Closing sessions also will attempt to discuss future threats and possible policy approaches to combat them.

For further information, click here

David Sauer is a retired senior CIA officer who served as chief of station and deputy chief of station in multiple overseas command positions in East Asia and South Asia. He earned a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College and an MA Degree from George Washington University.

Joel Weisberg: Modern Scientific Cosmology

8 Fridays (April 2-May 21), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Cosmology is the investigation of the past, present, and future history of the universe and of its general nature. Virtually all cultures throughout history have attempted to wrestle with cosmological questions, such as the origin of the universe. In the last hundred years, however, we have managed to perform key observations of the nature of the universe. Now, a cosmology must not conflict with these observations if it is to be considered scientifically viable. This development marks a watershed moment, which can be called the era of Modern Scientific Cosmology.

For further information, click here

Joel Weisberg is Stark Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences, Emeritus, at Carleton College.  He taught astronomy, cosmology, physics, and science and society courses at Carleton for 35 years. He and his students use radio telescopes across the world to study pulsars, the interstellar medium, and general relativity.

Jerry Kroll & Perry Mason: Conceptual and Ethical Issues Involved in Psychiatry

8 Fridays (April 2-May 21), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

This course will consider some basic philosophical questions about psychiatry and mental illness, focusing on two sorts of issues. First, we will analyze and discuss several fundamental concepts involved in psychiatry, including the concepts of illness and disease in general, of mental illness more particularly, and of dysfunction and disorder. The central issues in this area are the very nature and even the reality of mental illness. Secondly, we will consider certain questions involved in the practice of psychiatry, including both theoretical questions about the bases for diagnosis and ethical issues involved in the psychiatrist-client relationship. If diagnosis involves an evaluation of a person’s condition, the question arises of what the criteria for that evaluation might be. Are they personal inclinations, social norms, ethical principles, or scientific norms? To what degree, if any, are the psychiatrist’s diagnosis and decisions about treatment to rest upon the client’s beliefs, expectations, desires, cultural orientation, or moral standing?

For further information, click here

Jerry Kroll is Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the University of Minnesota Medical School. His clinical area of interest currently is cross-cultural psychiatry, working primarily with refugee patients at Metro Behavioral Health in Minneapolis. This is his first venture into team-teaching a CVEC course.

Perry Mason

Perry Mason taught philosophy at Carleton for over thirty years, primarily in the philosophy of religion, ancient Greek philosophy, and the philosophy of the social sciences. He has taught CVEC courses over the past eleven years and currently serves as the program’s Curriculum Director.