Fall program starts Sept. 26: Stay sharp and in-the-know with a class at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

A typical Osher class lecture. Courtesy
A typical Osher class lecture. Courtesy

By Steven Mihailovich

A variety of topics — ranging from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to Earth’s magnetic field — are part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s (OLLI) schedule of courses, now open to registration for the fall quarter. Located at the UCSD Extension campus, some 650 members strong, OLLI will offer nearly 200 classes over the 10-week quarter beginning Sept. 26 and running until Dec. 2. There will be an orientation day for the public from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Sept. 24.

The courses are strictly for individuals, ages 50 and older, and the entire program is designed and operated by its members. According to OLLI president Reed Sullivan, the trait makes the classes a pleasure instead of an obligation.

“This isn’t a university where you text during class, look for a date, and go to sleep,” Sullivan said. “These people are here because they want to be, not because they have to be. Some have more experience than the professors do.”

That experience underpins the whole program, with about half of all lecturers coming from the membership, Sullivan noted. For example, a class this fall on the catastrophe at the Fukashima nuclear power plant in Japan will be discussed by a panel of three nuclear scientists who are members of OLLI.

Lecturers are also recruited from the UCSD staff and other universities, as well as from prominent national speakers on tour, Sullivan said, with lecturers paid a fee from the OLLI budget, which totals $228,000 this year.

Topics to nudge the noodle

“It’s generally correct that it’s the lecturer who drives the popularity (of the class),” Sullivan said. He added that a 10-member curriculum committee selects the courses and lecturers, with subject matter divided into four categories: Law and Society, Science and Medicine, Art and Humanities, and International Relations.

“We’re trying to integrate what’s happening in the world with some explanations about it,” Sullivan said. “Some people prefer courses that are entertaining, such as music. If you come to a lot of classes, you can kind of tell which ones members like most. First of all, the class is full, and second of all, the question-and-answer period is animated.”

Burt Levine of La Jolla has been a member for 13 years and coordinates the Current Events courses. While discussions can become heated over topical issues, Levine said all classes are much more involved because of the quality of attendees as much as lecturers.

“You reach a stage when you’re not embarrassed to ask,” Levine said. “Some questions come out of right field and sometimes it can give you a whole new perspective. We have an informal rule to hold your questions until the lecture is complete. Because once this group starts with questions, it stops the lecturer cold.”

Aside from Current Events, controversial issues are also explored in other forums, including Inside Politics, Town Hall, and the Debate Series, which will examine euthanasia and nuclear power this fall.

The Master Class series, which scrutinizes the various aspects of a single issue every other week, is the most popular by far, Sullivan asserted. The two Master Class topics this fall are titled “Israel: Past, Present and Prospect,” and “Lining Up for Revolution in the Arab World.”

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