A change of course

CHALK TALK

Each fall, it's intriguing to see which classes grab the attention of college students. A certain crowd, of course, always heads for the eyebrow-arching courses that leave one speechless with their obscurity. But others seek out classes that bespeak the priorities of the times.

Rewind just two years, for example, and pop-culture studies were riding high: Madonna and her machinations; Britney and her bellybutton; Andy Griffith and what he said about the '60s; the cultural impact of "The Blair Witch Project."

Somewhere around the same time, "leisure studies" were also gaining ground. What better to do, after all, than study how fellow human beings occupied hours enhanced by a long run of prosperity, virtually full employment, and citizenship in the lone superpower?

It seemed to make some sense. But there's a very different buzz on campus this fall, and to find it, you need look no farther than the classroom at the right.

Professors who once labored to engage students in Middle Eastern affairs, Islamic studies, and international relations are finding their classrooms filled to overflowing. Some are adjusting syllabuses on the fly, others are quickly developing courses for next semester. Arabic-language professors accustomed to a handful of students are expecting to need more desks next term.

Even when turned away from a course, students are e-mailing professors to press their cases. Others are attending any informal seminars they can find.

After the Gulf War, a flurry of such interest wafted away. But some professors say this time, it's different. The day that changed the world around them changed college campuses, too. The new courses may keep coming for a while.

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

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