Dartmouth Medical School medicine and biochemistry Professor Dr. Lee Witters recently received a $300,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation for his new Humanitataes Vitae program, a series of undergraduate courses that will seek to integrate the humanities and the sciences.
"There is no place a Dartmouth undergraduate can go to escape biology," Witters said. From en vitro fertilization to human cloning to biological warfare, humans are facing biological questions in their every day lives, according to Witters.
In an effort to help students explore these issues, Witters said he wants to offer courses that may include genetic engineering, disease prediction, human reproduction, euthanasia, HIV research and gender selection.
"Each problem has many interfaces," Witters said. In his new program he said he hopes to touch upon these by addressing some of the sociological, political, ethical, religious, and economic aspects of each current biological issue.
"I wanted to emphasize human biology not as a scientific discipline, but as a discipline that touches all of humanity and society," said Witters of Humanitataes Vitae.
According to Witters, a major goal of the project is "to offer all Dartmouth College undergraduates a curricular experience in human biology" regardless of their individual majors. He said the program will "markedly improve interdisciplinary teaching at Dartmouth."
Witters said Dartmouth graduates must know something of biology in order to function in the 21st century.
"There are some members of Congress who are quite sophisticated with regard to health care issues, for example, and others who don't have a clue about issues of biology, and their reaction is a very political one," Witters said.
For that reason, he hopes to keep Dartmouth students informed by creating courses attractive to non-biology majors.
While the classes will include weekly lectures, more emphasis will be placed on debate, discussion and case studies in what Witters calls "a co-curricular approach to problem-solving." Peer education and self-reflection will be stressed, and class size will be modest.
Each course will be taught by at least two professors -- a scientist and one or more other faculty members with expertise in the social sciences or humanities.
In order to facilitate this process, Witters hopes to involve professors from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, the Thayer School of Engineering, and Dartmouth Medical School as well as from the College.
"Given our geographic proximity, we have a wonderful opportunity to create a faculty from all of Dartmouth for the benefit of undergraduates," he said.
The steering committee, which consists of Witters, ethics and religion Professor Ronald Green, biology Professor Mary Guerinot and medicine and biochemistry Professor Connie Brinckerhoff, is holding its first Minary Retreat this weekend in order to plan and develop courses and identify faculty members willing to teach them.
Witters hopes to develop two to three courses for first-year students that will be available for the spring term of 2001, but he said the program is still in its planning stages.
In fact, Witters urges undergraduates to become involved in this process. "There is no one on campus who knows better about classes than the students."
Witters expressed a similar attitude toward the classroom, pointing out that in Humanitataes Vitae courses teachers and students will "learn from each other."
He said he favors this method of teaching because of his view that "the best teacher is an eternal student."