Announcing: Ordinary University

Starting tomorrow, we will be launching a new periodic feature to Ordinary Times: Ordinary University.

The thought behind OU is to drill down into academic topics in a non-confrontational manner, based more on communal learning than hashing out the Internet topic-of-the-day.  In most cases the ones leading each course will be someone with a deep and professional knowledge about the subject matter; however, we will at times also have courses led by those with a desire to learn along with the community.  As is our mantra here, those leading any particular courses will be given a wide latitude to proceed as they see fit.

Our first course, which will start tomorrow, will be on the American Presidency and will be taught by long-time commenter and returning contributor Dr. James Hanley.  James is an associate professor of political science at Adrian College, and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

It appears we already have another contributor who is planning a course on poetry starting in February; I will hold off saying more and leave you with that teaser for now.

I should note that in our perfect vision of OU, course leaders will not be restricted to regular contributors.  So if you have a topic you would like to see covered — or if you know of someone not accosted with OT you would like to see us approach to teach a course — please let us know in the comment sections, or send me or one of the other editors an email.

Classes start tomorrow.


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53 thoughts on “Announcing: Ordinary University

    • Pierre,

      As I broached the idea to Tod, not a symposium. I have an actual syllabus, which will post tomorrow. But of course anyone else can offer a guest post on the topic being taught–all that takes is, I believe, Tod’s approval. E.g., if someone thinks I miss something important on the presidency (and I can’t cover everything), or has a post-length disagreement/alternative explanation, “guest lectures” would presumably be a legitimate guest post to offer.


  1. If anyone would like me to cover any science/engineering/software topics in greater detail, please let me know. While I know the detailed subject matter can be dry, I do seem to have a talent for making it less so (at least, that is why my managers keep telling me when they ask me to take over training new employees).


  2. What is our football team’s mascot? What conference are we angling for? The WAC probably would have taken us, but I’m not so sure anymore…

    Anyway, I like the idea. I won’t be able to participate as much as I would like, but I hope it really works out.


  3. I’ve got three or four poems that I’d love to explore. I don’t know that I can do it on a professional level, but I’ve got the passionate amateur thing down.


  4. I’ve been mulling over a guest post for some time now on global warming / climate change. A sort of primer on the subject particularly for the less science-minded that cuts through the political bs.

    But maybe that’s too political anyway despite my intentions?


      • Mine will be a series of 10-11 posts covering different aspects of the presidency, but all geared toward one general question about the institution.

        But that’s just me. OU’s an amorphous thing right now, and will become whatever contributors come up with that meets the approval of Chancellor Kelly. I doubt anyone should feel compelled to follow my (really old-fashioned, stick-in-the-mud) model. (E.g., I think it would be cool if someone did video lectures along the lines of what Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok are doing at Marginal Revolution University. And for the record, I thought of OU a couple months before I stumbled across MRU; great minds think alike, I guess (*grin*).)


      • Ok… Well, I’ve never taught a course, obviously, but I’ve taken my share of them. I was originally going to draft a post that outlined the foundational science behind the whole AGW/GCC thing. My motivation is that I find that most people, regardless of which side the debate they’re on, tend to hold their positions for not the best of reasons. You may recall Murali’s post on that meta subject a few months ago.

        I think my approach would be to explain the subject in such a way that my wife, a Mensa level intellect but unschooled in STEMy stuff, not unlike someone like our Newdealer, could get a decent grasp on the subject.

        The legitimate political debate is about the societal response.


      • And I meant to add, I’m currently lacking the means (a laptop) to do this, but if I use part of my tax refund for that maybe by that time I’ll have some idea of how to go about it from your example.


      • That would indeed be helpful. I’m pretty strong on the foundational physics and, to a lesser degree, chemistry and biology. But the modeling is where I start to take it on faith that they’re doing it close to right.

        In fact, I’d be grateful and happy to make the whole thing a collaborative effort. If for no other reason than to have a decent reviewer keep me from embarrassing myself.


  5. I took a graduate level course in Policy Analysis that I think the general commentariat might enjoy, but Nob/James are the actual political scientists, I just dabble.

    A crisis management course might be interesting. Hm. Hmmmmm.


    • Patrick,

      Maybe you, Nob and I collaborate on that at some point?

      And a crisis management course would be great. I pitched a crisis management minor to my administration last year, and they seemed interested (which only means they were interested last year; we’ll see). However it’s not an area I personally know well, and I’d love to learn more.


      • Sure, for the collaboration. We used the Weimer book in my course, I liked it quite a bit but it’s slanted towards the, “Okay, you’ve decided to do an intervention” standpoint, and it basically doesn’t cover normative principles, just political economics, really. What’s your introductory text for that course?

        As far as the crisis management goes, I can take four angles: crisis response organizations, organizations in crisis, management of crisis, or the psychology of crisis. They all tie in together, of course, it’s more a question of what you’d want the emphasis to be.


      • I don’t get to teach it anymore, since I made enviro politics a regular course, but I used Birkland, which is short, intelligent, and readable (a good combo for an undergrad class). It’s a process oriented book, but I’m a process oriented guy.


      • I have, yes. Pasadena’s emergency preparedness is bad, but Altadena’s is really good; they have a very active CERT group with Hammies through the LA County Sheriff’s office (Pasadena more or less relies on LAFD’s CERT courses, which are taught downtown, but Altadena doesn’t have a police force and the sheriffs are right there, which helps).

        If you’ve taken adult/child CPR with the Red Cross, the first aid part is pretty rudimentary. The triage training is really good, though. The fire suppression is fun, of course, and the USR training part was good for getting untrained and non-security-aware avergage Joes and Janes to think about how to clear a building without getting themselves into trouble.

        I’m going to try and convince my employer to spring for the EMT I course at PCC for me.


      • The whole CERT program is pretty active up here in the Puget Sound (what with Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and the occasional nasty wind storm). I did it a few years back & try to stay pretty active with it (been hard since my son was born, just not enough time…). We also have a very strong workplace disaster response culture, with companies getting volunteers to keep supplies stocked & arrange regular training for employees.

        It really is good for getting people to just think & prepare themselves for the short term emergencies, and to get trained in the basics.


      • I’ve done first aid/cpr, but not an actual CERT course. I think I’d enjoy it, though, so maybe I’ll look around for one. My county and town are, overall, really unprepared for dealing with emergencies. I had a student who did an internship with the relevant office here in town, and her reports were disheartening (although not surprising, given how little history of crisis we have and how cash strapped we are right now).


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