As I have several times mentioned, come fall I shall be flying up to New York each Tuesday to teach a course at Columbia University. Jerry Fresia asked to see the syllabus, so I thought I would post it here after saying a few words about how the course came to be.
Something more than a year ago, I was elected to a group at Columbia called The Society of Senior Scholars. The society is a group of thirty or so retired professors, most but not all retired from Columbia, who are interested in continuing to teach. The Society has its roots in Contemporary Civilization, a legendary General Education course created at Columbia in 1919, which is required, along with other courses, of every Columbia undergraduate. Some members of the Society teach sections of CC, as it is referred to, while others teach elsewhere in Columbia.
I am, I believe, the only member of the Society who does not live in the Greater New York area. CC meets twice a week, for two hours each time, and it would be impossible for me to come to the city twice a week, so I cast about for something else to teach. One of the people who had nominated me for the Society suggested that I create an upper level interdisciplinary course that could serve for a small group of Juniors and Seniors as a sort of capstone or consummation of their undergraduate education. I jumped at the chance and very quickly came up with a proposal for a course dealing with a range of materials that I have been thinking about, teaching, writing about, and recording YouTube videos about for the past forty years. The theme of the course that I proposed is the phenomenon of ideological distortion, mystification, and rationalization that characterizes all of the disciplines grouped together as Social Sciences and that distinguished them from the Natural Sciences and also [although this is debatable] from the Humanities. I called the course Mystifications of Social Reality.
The folks I was talking with at Columbia were enthusiastic about the proposal, but there was a problem. I am not a member of any department or other regularly established Columbia body [the Society does not count, for some obscure reason], so I am not authorized to offer a course. This bureaucratic obstacle had everybody stumped until someone said, “Of course, if you co-teach it with a faculty member, there will be no problem.” So, whom could I get?
The person who nominated me suggested a very senior member of the faculty of the famous Columbia School of Journalism who is also, as it happens, an Adjunct Member of the Sociology Department, a man named Todd Gitlin. I was absolutely delighted by the suggestion. Todd has had a long and brilliant career as a strong voice and active presence on the left in America, starting when he served as the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS as everyone knows it. He has published many books and it would be simply delightful for me to collaborate with him on the course. It all so happens, unbeknownst to the person who made the suggestion, that in 1960, fifty-eight years ago, Todd was my student at Harvard!
So there it is. On Tuesday, September 4th, Todd and I will meet a small class [limited to 20] in a room yet to be decided, and launch Mystifications of Social Reality. Later today, I will post the syllabus we have settled upon.