Critical Strategies and Great Questions

Seminar 001, Spring 2019

February 12th, 2019
Any minor updates to the syllabus will be available at:

I am teaching Seminar for the first time. Unlike physics courses, most of which I took before I taught, I have never taken a seminar course. Please do not be too concerned about this. All faculty are prepared by a process called "Seminar Formation" to teach seminar. I also prepared by watching regularly as Brother Charles taught Western History to 1500 last semester. Brother Charles relies heavily on original texts and expects students to understand, critique and cite them much the same way as we will do in Seminar.

On the other hand, because I am new, I am relying substantially on two mentors, Julie Park and David Arndt, who are very experienced with teaching Seminar. One thing that one learns by trial and error after teaching a course several times is how assignments and grading work in that course. To get that process of refinement off on the right foot, a great deal of the policies in this document are taken directly from Julie Park's policies. I am confident that what has worked for a professor as experienced as her can work for us.

Through direct encounter with great texts from a wide variety of authors, Collegiate Seminar is aimed at helping you think and speak for yourself, without the intermediary of a professor. Because you aren't here to learn what I think, but rather what the authors of the texts themselves think, seminar professors sometimes don't even call themselves "professors." It is not my job to profess in this course. It is my job to help you see what the authors and each other profess.


This document is pretty long, with a lot of specifics. Let's get the most important and also the most basic ones out of the way:

Policies (Attendance, etc.)

I will adhere to Julie Park's policies, inserted here nearly verbatim:

Collegiate Seminar aims to teach what can only be learned through practice with others: listening, speaking, close reading, shared inquiry. So it is absolutely essential for students to be in the classroom. The essence of the course is to work out your thoughts through dialogue with your peers and the texts. Therefore, coursework cannot be made up in other ways. It is your responsibility to be in class on time and ready to go.

Attendance will be taken at each class. Students may be absent from class TWO times (2 class meetings or one week's worth of classes). After that, each absence will earn no credit for class participation that day regardless of the reason. Further absences will detract from your grade in the course. This 2-absence policy applies to participation in academic events (e.g., if you know that you will be attending an academic conference and will have to miss class as a result, that absence will count toward the 2-absence allotment, even if you have an excuse from another professor).

Additionally, if you miss more than six classes, you will fail the course: “Any student who misses more than 25% of the scheduled class sessions should receive an F in the course. That is, any absences beyond 6 on a two-day per week schedule. This includes the final class session (which occurs during finals week!). This includes any absences excused for athletic competitions under the policy stated in of the Faculty Handbook. This includes any absences excused as part of a Student Disabilities Services accommodation.”

Please be in class on time. Lateness is disruptive. If you are late to class — if you arrive after class has started — your participation grade will drop. If you arrive more than 15 minutes after class has started, or if you leave class 15 minutes or more early, you will be marked as absent. The general principle is that you must be present in class on time and remain throughout the duration of the class in order to earn credit for attendance.

Please make every effort to restrict trips (i.e., "bathroom breaks") outside of class to a minimum and unless absolutely necessary. You cannot earn credit for participation for the time that you are not in class. Excessive breaks will detract from your participation grade.

You may bring drinks and small snacks to class, as long as they are not distracting and you clean up afterwards. Do not bring whole meals.

Reading List

The reading list is the heart of a syllabus. It is so central to Seminar in particular, that it is on its own page. This is the same reading list that all sections of Seminar 1 use. The formatting has been (IMHO) improved:

Seminar 1 Reading List (PDF)

Note that a detailed scheduled is built into the reading list. We will try not to get ahead or fall behind, but we may have to make slight adjustments.


We can make the most of our time together if we give each other our undivided attention.

Therefore, no electronic devices will be permitted during class. Please silence or turn off cell phones. Use of electronic devices during class time will detract from your grade.

Note a corollary of this: digital copies of the reading materials will not cut it. You need the hard copies. Furthermore, you need the editions in use by all students at the College so that we can compare page and line numbers easily.

  • Thursday, February 28, Essay #1 Due (submitted digitally by end of day (11:59pm), I will build in 1-day of slippage without penalty)
  • Thursday, March 21, First Draft of Essay #2 (slippage as above)
  • Thursday, April 25, Final Draft of Essay #2 (slippage as above)
  • Tuesday, May 21, Reflection Paper Due (end-of-day, no slippage, we are already in finals week and I have to get grading/reading immediately)

My understanding is that all seminars are to be graded 50% on participation (see policies, including attendance, above), and 50% on essays and any other homework. I will implement the college-wide policies for seminar, and transparently record your progress towards your total grade in Moodle. Very few opportuntities for extra credit will be given. Please focus on the assigned material, rather than creative ways of making up percentage points.

To the best of my ability, I will grade papers in alignment with the way our English department grades papers. Keep in mind that direct, compelling citation of texts is one of the most significant ways of butressing your opinions and arguments. I will be keenly alert to not only your individual and authentic reaction to the texts, but how you support your arguments with the text itself.

Let me put the same thing another way. Suppose you end up comparing Odysseus (the protragonist of the Odyssey) to Tony Stark (the protagonist in Iron Man). That's fine, but if more of your quotes are from Marvel Comics than from Homer (the author of The Odyssey), that is not going to fly well.

Spring 2019, Informal Curriculum. There are 18 opportunities for participation in activities outside of regular class hours. Attendance at a minimum of two of these will be part of your homework.

Center for Writing Across the Curriculum (CWAC)

In a course with a lot of writing, the Center for Writing Across the Curriculum (CWAC) is your most important outside resoruce.

Writing Circles: In weekly, small-group workshops, students discuss their own writing projects, at all stages of the process. This is a pass-fail course: .25 credit COMM 190 for undergraduates.

One-to-one sessions: Anyone – students, faculty, staff – may make appointments or drop-in at De La Salle Hall 110. The Spring 2019 hours are as follows: Sunday, 4:00-8:15pm; Monday-Thursday, 9:15am – 8:15pm, Friday, 11:30am – 4:00pm.

Writing Advisors guide peers toward expressing ideas clearly, always weighing audience and purpose. Writers bring their assignment sheets and readings in order to brainstorm ideas, revise drafts, or work on specific aspects of writing, such as grammar, citation, thesis development, organization, critical reading, or research methods. They may discuss any genre, including poetry, science lab reports, argument-driven research, theses, or scholarship application letters.

Academic Honor Code

The Saint Mary's Academic Honor Code (AHC) is applicable to this (and all) Saint Mary's courses. You are responsible for familiarizing yourself with it: AHC Website. If a reasonable suspicion arises that you have violated the Academic Honor Code, you will be referred to the Academic Honor Council. Whatever decision they make is binding.

In a course with a lot of writing, the easiest part of the honor code to run afoul of is plagiarism. Therefore, Julie Park emphasizes the following:

To plagiarize is to present someone else’s work as if it were your own (i.e., to use someone else’s words or ideas without indicating that they are borrowed). You are free to use someone else’s words or ideas as long as you acknowledge your sources. All sources—quoted, paraphrased, summarized, consulted, or used in any way—must be cited. Such sources include books, articles, materials from the internet, or ideas obtained from other students and professors. Students are expected to do original work for each course. It is not acceptable for students to submit, for a later course, work they themselves did for an earlier course. It is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is. Plagiarism is defined not by what someone intends but by what he or she has done. If the words on a student’s paper match the words in a book or website that has not been cited, it does not matter what he or she meant to do. What matters is the words on the page. All your writing for this course should be your own.

Student Disability Services

Accommodations that take into account the context of the course and its essential elements for individuals with qualifying disabilities are extended through the office of Student Disability Services (SDS). Information regarding the services available may be found on the SDS Office Website.