University Seminars (USEMs): Fall 2012

University Seminars (USEMS) are designed to give first-year students the opportunity to develop critical-thinking skills and explore new ideas in an environment that encourages interactive learning and intensive discussion. The seminars are based on ideas that have changed the way we think about our relation to the world around us. The seminars are given by prominent faculty in departments and schools across the University, carry two or three hours of credit, and are restricted to 18 first-year students during the initial course enrollment. If space is remaining, second-, third-, and fourth-year students may enroll using a Course Action Form.

Refer to the Student Information System Course Catalog for a list of specific offerings each semester.

Appalachian Natural History
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00-3:50
Gilmer 227
Henry M. Wilbur, Professor, Biology

A broad discussion of Appalachia from deep geological history through the development of its extant biodiversity including the role of humans from first peoples to current extractive industries.

2 Credit Course
Monday and Wednesday 2:00-2:50
Cauthen House, 112
David Lee Rubin, Professor Emeritus, N/A
Satisfies Second Writing Requirement

How do journalists, academics and other professionals reason? This highly interactive USEM - which satisfies the second Writing Requirement - introduces a standard model of post-formal logic and provides abundant practice in the construction, analysis and appraisal of arguments. While learning the model during the first third of the course, participants will focus - with increasing breadth, depth, and acuity - on opinion columns from leading on-line periodicals. Then, after brief, transitional work on controversy, the class will turn to expert position papers on the debate over physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The Evolution of Language
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:30-5:20
Pavilion VIII, Room 108
Mitchell S. Green, Professor, Philosophy

Introduction to some central issues in the problem of language evolution.

2 Credit Course
Monday 4:00-5:50
Pavilion VIII Room 103
Mark Thomas, Professor, History

This course will look at the history, culture and society of the land "down under." Australia is a  land of opportunity and paradox. It began as a penal colony and became the richest country in the world within a hundred years. It is a country that has been independent of Britain for a century, yet still has the Queen as head of state. It is a vast continent of only 15 million inhabitants yet has remarkable regional diversity. It has long been among the most urbanized of global societies, yet its cultural identity is largely shaped by rural idealism. To understand contemporary Australia, one must understand its past, both as myth and reality. This course will look closely at some of the major events in Australian history, from the voyages of Captain Cook and the landing of the First Fleet at Botany Bay, through the excitements of the Gold Rush and Ned Kelly, the traumas of Gallipoli and the Great Depression, to the economic, political, and social problems faced in the uncertain world of the new millennium. We will use both the traditional and non-traditional means to understand these events, applying the realist perspective of the historian, the subjective perceptions of the diarist and novelist, and the powerful imagery of the artists and film-maker.

Booms, Busts and Cycles
2 Credit Course
Friday 9:00-10:50
Monroe 120
Edwin T. Burton, Professor, Economics

This USEM studies the two most cataclysmic economic collapses for the past one hundred years. It compares the "Great Depression" of the 1930s with the financial collapse that began in 2007 and continues today with the Euro crisis. There is also a sprinkling of elementary game theory in this seminar. The seminar is limited to 12 first-year students and an interview with the professor is required for admission to the class.

Contemporary Perspectives on Social Justice Movements, Action and Change
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00-3:50
Pavilion VIII, Room 103
Lisa Speidel, Outreach Coordinator, The Women's Center
Loren Intolubbe-Chmil, Program Coordinator, The Women’s Center

The purpose of this course is to engage students in critical thought and discussion about social justice movements, both well-known and more obscure, which represent community and citizen-based responses to injustice and inequality. This course will focus on the concept of agency and resilience and the ways in which seemingly divergent populations of people have utilized various strategies for achieving recognition and change. The course will incorporate several themes; exploring the role of identity and difference at personal and relationship levels, the historical context of these concepts, and theoretical frameworks considered from local and global perspectives. The aim of the course is to compel students to explore a sense of purpose and plan of action grounded in engaged scholarship and social responsibility. The structure of the course includes lectures, readings, interactive exercises, films, discussion, guest speakers, critical written evaluations, blog discussions and personal written reflection of the weekly topics.

Income Diversity in Higher Ed.
2 Credit Course
Thursday 3:00 – 4:50pm
Pav. VIII B002
Justin Thompson, Assistant Provost for Academic Planning and Development

High-achieving students from all over the world compete for admission to America’s best-resourced public universities. They do so, in part, to gain access to learning environments defined by top professors, well-appointed facilities, robust curricular and co-curricular offerings, high graduation rates, high placement rates, and thoroughly-networked alumni. Because public universities are nearly unequaled as institutions for social mobility and personal advancement, admission decisions have lasting implications for human capital development, intergenerational mobility, and the social compact between the public and public intuitions. With increasing frequency, higher education scholars and others who watch the changes in post-secondary institutions are asking if public, flagship universities remain “engines of opportunity,” or have they become “engines of inequality?”

We will study historic antecedents of the current distribution of higher education enrollments, and the theoretical and operational aspects of programs intended to increase access to highly-competitive and open-access institutions of higher education. Course materials will be complemented by in-class appearances by University leaders (students and administrators) who will discuss their role in increasing economic diversity at the University of Virginia.

Interpreting Les Misérables
2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:00-3:50
Pavilion VIII, Room 108
Marva A. Barnett, Professor, French & Teaching Resource Center

In our fast-paced digital world, thinking people still dedicate hours to reading novels, seeing plays, watching movies. Why? In this seminar, we'll explore the multi-faceted appeal of literature, theatre, and film by plunging into one great novel: Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. What is it about this story that speaks to people across decades and cultural divides? Why, worldwide, have nearly 60 million made les Mis the longest-running musical, and what has prompted directors to make 50 film versions of the novel? How have screenwriters, directors, actors and lyricists interpreted this work, and how will it speak to you? What changes - and what doesn't - when a book becomes a musical or film? In the end, what is the power of the art of interpretation - both artistic and personal? Join the conversation about why this novel is considered "great " and what "great literature" can do for us.

Leadership by Design
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 2:00-3:50
Pavilion VIII, Room 103
Marga Odahowski, Faculty, McIntire School of Commerce

Throughout our careers and in life we are called to lead. Many of us have little formal education in the skills of observation, teaming and reflection that are necessary in leadership development. Drawing from cognitive science, business and the arts this course will introduce students to current research and practices a it relates to the leadership skills of self-mastery that enhance leadership development.  This course will emphasize the personal and professional development of students and ways they can effectively begin to contribute to an organization (be a leader at any level) as well as achieve personal fulfillment and build the skill set for innovation. Students will be exposed to information and exercises to increase their capacity to listen deeply, demonstrate mutual respect and empathy and generate from a possibilities mindset.

Post-Soviet Political Challenges:  Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, Separatism and Irredentism
3 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:30 – 6:00
Clemons Library 322A
Yuri Urbanovich,Lecturer

The end of the Cold War coincided with a wave of national revivals that spread across Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and became one of the notable consequences of the collapse of communist regimes. This course will focus specifically on the origins of nationalism, separatism, secessions, and irredentist claims in the Russian Federation and other former Soviet republics. The first third of the course will be devoted to major theoretical approaches to nationalism and ethnicity in political science, the treatment of the “nationalities question” in Marxist-Leninist theory, and the history of Soviet federalism and “nationalities policy.” We will then investigate the role of nationalism in the confounding Gorbachev’s plans for reforming the Soviet system and the dynamics behind the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. Finally, we will address the contemporary role of nationalism in the successor states, with particular emphasis on problems of nation and state building in the post-communist era, the conflicting logics of state sovereignty, national self-determination, and regional as well as cultural autonomy. We will also consider case studies of various post-communist “secessionist” struggles, particularly in Chechnya and the recent conflict in the Republic of Georgia (the Five-Day War). We will make sense of the present through an understanding of the history, culture, and politics on which it builds.

Public Construction of Self as Art Making
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 10:00-11:50
Ruffin 102
Claude Wampler, Lecturer

This Seminar will explore the act of construction an alternate cyber-self, a creative process that has become a necessity, and examine its potential as an art practice. We will concentrate on reading closely a select group of relevant philosophy, critical theory, performance theory, poetry and visual studies texts while looking at artists and art works (film, installation work, performance art, fashion design, dance, stand-up comedy, animation, internet-based video…) and discuss the performative nature of an invented disembodied self or art object that stands apart from its creator verses in performance of a live person or event.

Quantitative Explorations
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:30 – 5:30
Dell2 102
Oren McClain, Assistant Dean

This course will explore introductory calculus concepts through real world applications. Topics covered will include differentiation, antidifferentitation, and integration. In addition discussions, written reflections, and problem-solving will serve as primary components of this course.

Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union
3 Credit Course
Monday 3:30-5:20
Clemons Library 322 A
Yuri Urbanovich, Lecturer

This course is about Russian and the Soviet Union. It is designed to explore some of this country's major political themes of the twentieth century through an understanding of Russia's history, culture, and politics.

Systems Thinking and Sustainable Businesses
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 6:00-7:50
Robertson Hall, 227
Mark A. White, Associate Professor, McIntire School of Commerce

Sometimes we think we're making the right decision, but that decision has unforeseen and unintended consequences. Sometimes the collective action of rational individuals leads to irrational outcomes. Sometimes our experiences blind us to alternative, better solutions. Systems thinking - a disciplined approach to wholistic problem-solving - offers promise for resolving these and other challenges. As businesspersons in both the developed and developing world seek to incorporate sustainability concepts into their planning and operations, an understanding of "the big picture" will be critical. This course introduces students to the fundamental concepts (mental models, causal loop diagrams, systems analysis) of systems thinking and provides practice in their application to real-world sustainability applications in business.

The Collapse of Prehistoric & Historic Complex Societies
2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:00-3:50
Nau 242
Rachel Most, Professor and Assistant Dean, Anthropology

The media is filled with compelling and intriguing images of lost civilizations and societies who came into power and then fell. It is hard to ignore these images and our minds race to question what happened to these powerful societies - to Egypt, Rome and the Inca, for example. What led to their demise? Famine? Invaders? Environmental degradation? What we see from prehistory and history is that no civilization is permanent; as was written about the Roman Empire: "Civilization can die, because it has already died once." During this class we will examine the collapse of some of the greatest civilizations and explore what led to their demise.