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Without U. support, Erikson continues to teach course

Professor Emeritus of Medical Sciences G.E. Erikson, whose course at Brown was canceled by the dean of the College's office this winter, has continued to teach "Ventures in the History of Biology, Medicine and Public Health" - formerly UC 102 - despite its cancellation.

Erikson had been teaching a course for the University pro bono every semester since his retirement in 1990 and said he hopes to teach again despite the obstacles he encountered this year. His course was cancelled in December when Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron wrote him a letter about the course's non-compliance with a rule requiring courses to be affiliated with a department.

Though Erikson occasionally had to cancel his class UC 101: "Anatomy and Art: A Study of Form in Man and Nature" last semester for health reasons, Bergeron wrote in an e-mail to The Herald in January that the course was canceled because of a lack of "proper departmental support." Bergeron was not available for comment on the current status of Erikson's relationship with the University.

Now, the not-for-credit course meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in Salomon 103 and is free and open to students and members of the Providence community. Erikson said he received a letter of apology from Bergeron but that the University has not formally apologized to him.

"I'm completely frustrated by the way I was treated by the University. They have this mantra that you must have a departmental affiliation," Erikson said. "I insist that I have multiple ones but not formal ones."

Erikson is quick to point out that though he is 87 years old, he remains fit to teach, and he denied rumors that his ill health led to the course's cancellation. He said pneumonia and a resulting hospital stay previously forced him to cancel class meetings but insisted he is "young and vigorous" and will continue to teach if able.

At Tuesday's meeting, Erikson began his lecture with comments on the Black Plague by asking the students to "think of what it would be like if we had a plague - it's not impossible, and it's not too far away. Imagine how our community would be affected by that."

Though the course has had an enrollment as high as 57 students at one point, regular attendance is usually around 20 or so people, Erikson said. A couple of Brown students attend the course regularly, but the low student attendance is somewhat discouraging to Erikson. "I've been disappointed that there haven't been more students - especially medical students - in the class," he said.

The course usually opens with a general introduction followed by slides and ends with a lengthy discussion. Most students stay much later after class ends to chat with Erikson.

Erikson said the course isn't just about the history of medicine. "It's not just about names of doctors or dates, but the students have also have learned how to observe," Erikson said. "This has affected the way they are learning in other courses."

Erikson's students are mostly Providence residents, and several told The Herald that Erikson's extensive knowledge and the varied life experiences he shares during lectures are particularly engaging.

Alfred Tente, an electronics technician for the Department of Chemistry, is one of the students in the class. "On some nights he might bring a human skull or a cow's heart to demonstrate something related to that class," Tente wrote in an e-mail to the Herald. "He has traveled extensively to areas of the world related to the history of medicine, and he brings these slides and stories to class often."

"Students appreciate the enormous resources I bring to the course," Erikson said.

Providence resident Dennis Skehan praised Erikson's dynamic teaching style.

"George Erikson has the proven ability to think vertically and horizontally," Skehan wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "More than that, he inspires students to think and to learn in a way that seems to be a most natural way."

Discussing his possible plans after teaching at Tuesday's meeting, Erikson said he will eventually look forward to working in the garden and doing woodwork. He told the class he would "get down on his stomach" while gardening - then turned to the class to ask, "What was wrong with that statement?"

One of the students immediately corrected Erikson, saying the stomach is on the inside of the body, while the abdomen is the correct term for the outside.

"We've all enjoyed this from the beginning," said Providence resident Norma Pezzelli, another student in the class. "His scope of knowledge is a great enlightenment."



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