Some Professors Could Use a Class in Marketing

Monday, March 3, 2008

Julie Kirsch could have called her philosophy course at Marymount University in Arlington County, well, philosophy. Dozens of college catalogues are filled with History of Philosophy, Logic of Philosophy and Ethics of Philosophy courses.

But Kirsch thinks titles matter. So her class -- about the social and moral questions surrounding the shady side of government through the prisms of utilitarianism, virtue ethics and Kantianism -- is called Lies and Secrets.

"The hope is that it will also pique students' interest, making them want to know more and dig deeper," Kirsch said.

Colleges love to brag about how fascinating their classes are, but it isn't always easy to tell by browsing a list of course names. They are assuredly straightforward: A course titled "The Nominalism/Realism Debate, Part I: Plato and Aristotle" speaks for itself.

Courses are usually named by the professors who create them, who are generally seeking easy classification, administrators say. But Joe A. Oppenheimer, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, has another explanation for the often dry titles:

"Because the teachers are boring," joked Oppenheimer, who named an honors course "Why Is It So Hard to Have Good Government?"

American University professor Roberta Rubenstein named her women's literature class "A Room of One's Own: Women and Literature" when she created the class 30 years ago, seeking "a thematic hook" to entice students with the reference to Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own." Today, she said, students don't always recognize the Woolf allusion, but the course title still intrigues them.

Students say a little title creativity can draw them in. "If I'm going for core requirements, it may not matter, but if it's something I can actually choose to take, it would," said Chris Chambers, 19, a junior at U-Md.

-- Valerie Strauss

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