Even blow-off courses have challenges

By Caryn Rosenberg

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on alleged blow-off courses. Today’s story looks at the criteria that must be met in order for a course to be offered.

Blow-off courses are found at colleges throughout the nation, including NIU—they might be easy but they serve a purpose.

The Oct. 2, 1991 edition of Rolling Stone magazine lists the top 20 blow-off classes found at universities nationwide.

The list includes New York University’s Circus class, which teaches such skills as juggling and stilt-walking; Washington University at St. Louis’ Fairy Tales and Ever After class, which examines works by the Brothers Grimm; and Northwestern University in Evanston’s Choosing a Life class, which helps freshmen decide what to do with their futures.

No NIU classes are listed, but it doesn’t mean NIU doesn’t offer its own blow-off courses—it has its share.

However, finding these courses might not be as easy as one would think.

Some NIU students have said easy course descriptions can be deceiving. A course that doesn’t require a strenuous workload still might challenge students with difficult concepts.

In addition, professors teach courses differently. Attendance might be more important to one professor than another and different aspects of a course could be emphasized by different teachers.

All courses, including those less strenuous, are reviewed to make sure they are appropriate for the university and its students before they can be offered.

Associate Provost Lou Jean Moyer said before a class will be offered at NIU, there must first be a need in the department. The course is then proposed and reviewed by two separate committees before the proposal is passed and the course is offered.

“No course that I’m aware of doesn’t have some type of academic content,” Moyer said. “Even in a P.E. course there are thought processes and knowledge that need to be applied.”

Although some courses are easier than others, there is no required grade spread at the university and a course will not be cancelled simply because it is easy and the majority of the students get high grades.

“There is no policy at this university that if 95 percent of the students get A’s or 95 percent of the students get F’s something must be done about it,” said Moyer.

If this were the case, however, the department chairman would probably want to look into it because the department chairman is ultimately responsible for the courses taught, Moyer said.

Moyer said the department chairmen are knowledgeable about grade distribution because each department gets a printout of grade distributions of departments, individual courses and of the college so they can see what the grades are and how their courses compare to others.

If there is a problem in the way a course is taught, the department chairman might encourage a different teaching technique, Moyer said.

“The department chairman will not tell a faculty member that he or she has to change his or her teaching style,” Moyer said.

Moyer said the administration works with the faculty to make the curriculum and teaching first-rate at this university.