Our world has become more complex, and the big questions we face are increasingly difficult to answer. Union's world-class faculty from a variety of disciplines have created Minervas Online, a suite of interdisciplinary courses designed to help students understand the complexity of, and develop solutions to, large-scale societal challenges.
These courses are taught by a single faculty member, team-taught by faculty in different disciplines, or taught by multiple faculty across the College. Alumni, artists, activists, scientists and local and global community members will be included as speakers to provide their unique perspectives on the particular societal challenge.
Environmental Challenge and Social Responsibility (MIN 200)
The course will allow students to investigate environmental policy from various fields; guest lecturers from Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Engineering, Geology and History as well as from Adirondack Wild, Albany Pine Bush and Tyler Technologies will assure that they are exposed to the diverse traditions that encompass the Liberal Arts. The final Policy Paper will be a synthesis of all that they have learned throughout the term. Students will be expected to take make connections between the general presentations they have heard from guest lecturers and the specific information they have learned about Siberia from my lecturers and the readings in Paul Josephson’s An Environmental History of Russia. Students will also be incorporating outside sources and their own research for this final project. A student writing about sacred sites around Baikal, for example could draw from information presented in the GIS guest lecturer (and homework on ESRI case studies using mapping for managing natural resources) and the Adirondack Wild lecturer (on Buryati in Siberia) as well as chapters from Josephson’s textbook, my lecture and outside research to propose a specific policy on expanding the hunting rights of the Buryati in forests surrounding Lake Baikal. The final policy paper will showcase the student’s ability to make connections among the topics discussed in class; students are expected to write a critical analysis that is aimed at engaging Russian or US policymakers.
This course carries HUM/LCC credit.
The Social and International Injustices of Climate Change (SCLB) (MIN 209)
The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect countries that have contributed the least to atmospheric greenhouse gas loading. Further, within all countries the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the poor and ethnic minorities. This duality of climate change injustice is one of the greatest challenges of our time as its solution requires a redistribution of resources, technology, and expertise from developed to underdeveloped countries and from those on the upper rungs of the socioeconomic ladder to those on the lower rungs. This course will review the basis for the overwhelming scientific consensus that concludes that ongoing warming is not natural, that the rate of warming, which exceeds that of any past interval of natural warming, is driving entire ecosystems to extinction, and why forecasts of many aspects of our 21st century world that were once thought to be extreme are now considered plausible. A major part of the course will focus on the degree to which the impacts of global warming affect underdeveloped countries with a special emphasis on tropical South America, Asia and Africa. Specific case studies will focus on the impacts of regional warming on hydrology, tropical disease, and tropical storms. We will address the role of socioeconomic position on the impact of global warming on individuals with case studies based on data from one underdeveloped and one developed country. Experts will be invited to deliver guest lectures on topics ranging from the impact of melting glaciers on water supplies and hydroelectricity generation in the tropical Andes to the impact of tree cover on projected peak temperatures in different neighborhoods in a major U.S. metropolitan area. Students will be responsible for proposing solutions to at least one aspect of climate change injustice and presenting various stages of their research during weekly discussion groups.
This course carries SCLB credit (pending approval).
Mass Incarceration, Death and Race in America (MIN 208)
Like ordinary people, nations can be complicated: they have good things and they have bad things. The United States is of course not exempt from this complexity. This course is about one bad thing about the United States: its depressingly unjust system of criminal justice. Amongst the many reasons why the system is unfair we will discuss, its reliance on an increasingly unmanageable and inhumane carceral system, its anachronistic endorsement of the death penalty, and its metastatic growth in terms of what it criminalizes and what it punishes. If this were not bad enough, we will study the many connections between these grave ills and the United States’ fraught history of racism. Sadly, there is a clear line that goes from slavery via convict lease programs and Jim Crow laws, to the mess we have today.
Focusing on this particularly bad thing about the United States is not motivated by masochism or by a desire to unduly trash the country. It is, rather, an effort to contribute to the country’s progress. Even though, mainly as result of the widespread availability of cameras (in our phones, etc.) witnessing harrowing atrocity after harrowing atrocity has become routine, these events are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of us remain either insufficiently aware or fully unaware of the dysfunctionality of the American criminal justice system or of its systematic connection to racism. It is naïve to expect progress regarding any of these problems if we are not at least aware of them, and if we do not manage to understand what they really are and why they came to be.
In this introductory class, students will actively engage with what it means to be a global citizen. Questions we will discuss include: What do we need to learn and understand about cultural differences and cultural change to become more competent, collaborative and respectful in our lives and careers? And how can we contribute meaningfully to our local and global communities? What is our place in the world? Class discussions will be enhanced through real-life case studies from around the world that will allow students to see themselves as part of a shared community. This course will include speakers, intercultural communication and digital storytelling projects that will enhance students’ critical reflection on purposeful global citizenship.
This course carries LCC credit.