Courses in bioterrorism, Islam among most popular on U.S. campuses

MBy Derek Montgomery
Badger Herald
University of Wisconsin

mADISON, Wis. (U-WIRE) – Students love it. According to President Bush, the “axis of evil” craves it. It’s bioterrorism, and it’s coming to a classroom near you.

Classes dealing with bioterrorism and Islam are among the hottest classes at college campuses across the country.

“This semester has definitely been more popular than last,” said Charles Hirschkind, a professor of anthropology and an expert in Islam at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In response to a growing demand by college students across the country for more Islam and bioterrorism in the classroom, universities are creating new courses and reopening old ones.

“It’s a very timely topic,” said Nancy Berner, chair of the biology department at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. “It shows another way of looking at biological ideas – another way to get information across in a way that students will apply it to what’s going on in the world today.”

William Weidanz, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at UW-Madison and a professor of emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism said the case is the same for his class.

“It’s very popular,” Weidanz said. “We capped it at 50 students. It’s the first time we taught it as a combined course and we thought that would be a big enough class to handle. What has happened is that people are calling in seeing if they can get into the class.”

While the number of students rushing to bioterrorism courses may parallel the explosive growth of bacteria in a petri dish, students are also flocking to classes having anything to do with Islam.

Joseph Elder, a professor of sociology at Madison, said after Sept. 11 there was a rush to bring in new faculty with knowledge in Islam.

“There was a considerable stir to get people here,” Elder said. “There are probably four or five new faculty that have been recruited here from last year.”

The University of the South and UW-Madison are not the only universities to jump on the bioterrorism bandwagon. George Washington University has created a course titled “Coping with Bioterrorism.”

The course is meant to be an “introduction to the measures needed to protect against the intentional use of biological threats”

Arizona State University has added a barrage of classes dealing with Islam and politics in the post-Sept. 11 world. New classes at ASU include “War, Liberty and Law in the U.S.,” “War and American Society,” “Islam in Africa” and “World Politics after 9/11.”

UW-Madison’s course, “Islam: Religion and Culture,” had no open seats when classes started this semester.