Yes, in this seminar; other classes debate work issues, review films online

Each year the University refreshes its course offerings. Here are three recent additions:

Illustrations: Steven Veach

On Monday afternoons at Mathey College, students have been learning about debate, teamwork, and philanthropy in a freshman seminar with a twist: The students have $30,000 to give away at the end of the course.

The course is titled “Philanthropy,” and students work their way through a long list of potential charities, researching and then advocating on behalf of their favorite groups as they narrow the list down to a final selection.

“The duty to donate real money puts a special responsibility on the students to give thoughtfully,” said Stanley Katz, professor of public and international affairs. “The seminar’s dynamics would be quite different with Monopoly money.”

A class session offers three hours of controlled chaos, as students lead and structure discussions themselves. “I don’t want to sound confrontational!” said one student. “Voting against a charity isn’t personal,” another said during a strongly felt debate.

“I think we should put our money where our mouth is,” said Nathaniel Cope ’17, who said he took the course out of a desire to respond in a tangible way to tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing and Hurricane Sandy. “This is something I need to learn about so I can give back to society.”

The course offered an important lesson beyond its subject, Cope said: “We’ve learned a lot about philanthropy, but maybe an even bigger takeaway is how to work in a team.”

The course was made possible by a donation from investment banker Geoffrey Raynor ’89.

Work is a concept that most Princeton students are more than familiar with, but in one freshman seminar this fall they were challenged to think about its meaning beyond papers and problem sets.

On a Thursday in November, the students in a course titled “Work” energetically debated whether or not machines will change paid work as we know it. Some students argued that technology improves our quality of life; others said that innovation is dangerous if it has no limits.

The seminar, taught by sociology professor Paul Willis, aims to give students a grounding in “the best that has been thought and said about the question of work,” from the texts of Marx and Weber to modern views of sexuality in the workplace.

The debate over technology was one example of how class participants were expected to understand and take sides on work-related issues: Will automation and globalization transform our concept of work? Are large companies “branding” their workers as well as their products? And why do Princeton students work so hard? “From the first day, Professor Willis let us know that there would be no solutions in his class,” said Ross Barron ’17.

Willis said he was interested in the students’ experience of work beyond the classroom — at a summer camp, amusement park, or in the dining hall — that helped them relate to the course material.

Princeton students usually enter the workforce with a strong “social consciousness and sense of responsibility,” Willis said. His hope is to give freshmen a historical understanding that could help them contextualize “the grounds of their whole experience of the next 50 years.”

Some students dream of producing work that will outlast their time at Princeton. Those in an English course during the fall semester called “Princeton Film Review” have been doing just that.

Students in the course planned to launch a blog before the winter recess that would provide in-depth reviews of film and television — “a review run by students for students,” as the course syllabus states.

“It’s refreshing to have a class like this,” said Zachary Salk ’14. “This is an opportunity to create something entirely our own.”

Students have examined the finer points of reviewing while taking on every aspect of the blog’s development, from content to layout and design to promotion on campus and beyond.

English professor Diana Fuss said she developed the course to give a younger generation a critical voice, adding that the class is “not just talking about media; we’re actually making it.”

The blog is named the Princeton Buffer — a play on the way websites “buffer” and a reference to those taking the course being “film buffs.”

While other campus publications include movie and TV reviews, the blog will focus on them, said Will Pinke ’14. The difference, he said, will be found “in the motivations behind the writing, the high film IQ we expect the writing to be founded on, and the audience we hope to reach.”

Course participants said they will continue to play a large role in managing the blog after the course ends.