The harmonies of “All My Loving” or the mystical melodies of “I am the Walrus” are common soundtracks for students walking down Market Street. However, by the time students pass Audiotronic, and walk into the sullen lecture hall, the songs and memories of the Fab Four are left at the door. You begin your study of Regional Landscapes in Context or World in the 21st Century.
But now, the Liverpool kids take the songs one step further- into the classroom. The Beatles were a product of a remarkable time, and they contributed to the era. Their voices, lyrics, songs, and reputation still linger, so much so that one can now achieve a Master of Arts degree in all things Beatles. Liverpool Hope University of the United Kingdom currently offers a MA in the Beatles, Popular Music, and Society.
“This MA is the only one of its kind in the U.K. and the world,” says Fiona Gustard, Hope Liverpool’s Admission Administrator. “The central focus of the program will be an academic understanding of the worlds in which the Beatles emerged and how those worlds were reflected, contested, supported and negated by and through the creativity, presence and pervading status of The Beatles and their music.”
This past January, Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, hailing from Renfrew, Ontario, graduated with the world’s first Beatles degree. Zahalan-Kennedy, former beauty queen and singer, now teaches music at Sheridan College. John, Paul, George and Ringo have left their mark on academia. The 12-month program, though unique, has some competition for the honour of most absurd degree.
The degrees and diplomas get more bizarre. Programs like Comic Book Art at Minneapolis College of Art and Design or Golf Course Management at Mississippi State University seem obscure, but are actually practical and job-specific.
Texas A&M University offers a MA in Ranching. Graduates can expect an annual income between US$50,000-75,000. Students can earn a Bachelor or Doctorate level degree in UFO-ology, sometimes classified as pseudoscience, from Georgia’s American Institute of Metaphysics. This program claims to enrich students with knowledge of investigating the history of famous and lesser-known UFO sightings. The well-regarded Queen’s University in Belfast offers a Jedi Knights course that uses the psychology behind the Star Wars phenomenon to teach communication skills and personal development. The course is appropriately titled “Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way.”
These eye-catching and distinctive courses, though unusual to many universities, are comparable to some offered at Laurier Brantford in the Contemporary Studies program. No, CT does not teach students Jedi mind tricks or how to lasso cattle. But no matter the content, these seemingly weird degrees and diplomas are distinctive, adding to the overall personality of an academic institution. Just as not many can say they have a master’s degree in the Beatles, there are few who can say they are well versed in a variety of important subjects and have a minor (or major) in Contemporary Studies to prove it.
Many are skeptical of the presence of Contemporary Studies at Laurier Brantford. Incoming students – and returning students – are often confused by their pre-declared status in the unique program. The courses, like Navigating the Information Environment, Individual in the Community and Organizational Leadership, when examined separately seem unrelated.
However, there is meaning to the oft-maddening Laurier Brantford requirement.
“CT is not so much a set of answers to questions as it is an outlook, an attitude of mind,” says Peter Farrugia, Contemporary Studies Program Coordinator. “We strive to help our students become aware of the complexity of the contemporary world and to embrace that complexity.”
Deciphering career possibilities with a degree in Contemporary Studies is a frequent task among students.
“I think that some of the classes are useful to my studies, but not so much to me as a person,” says Christine Logan, Contemporary Studies and English major.
According to Farrugia, the interdisciplinary program allows students to form a more clear perspective of how they can be informed and engaged citizens. This, in fact, makes it incredibly practical. When paired with one of Laurier’s other programs, students leave the campus well rounded and well versed in a wide variety of pressing and relevant subjects like world issues, the environment and media.
Walking down Market Street, one can most likely pick up the heart-wrenching tune of “Let It Be” and hum it fluently, with or without a degree. When walking past the Grand River, Laurier students can hopefully identify its ramifications on the landscape. When reading an article on changes made by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Laurier students should know how to appropriately engage themselves in the issue. When entering post-university life, Laurier students can rest assured they have an interdisciplinary understanding of the interconnected world around them. Maybe there is some good in CT after all. Maybe we should let it be.