Auditors Revisit the Classroom
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:09
Patricia Orr is not a typical Georgetown student. Unlike most of the freshmen and sophomores in “Comparative Political Systems,” a class taught by Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., she already has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Orr is one of about 50 senior auditors who attend undergraduate classes at Georgetown, according to Anne Ridder, assistant dean of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program and coordinator of the Senior Citizen Non-Degree Auditor Program at the School of Continuing Studies.
“You don’t get to relive college … but it’s great to be with the professors, who are wonderful, and with the kids,” Orr said. “It’s so good for me to see what college is like nowadays … getting the feel of that and reliving that with the students.”
When Fr. Timothy Healy, S.J., began the program in the mid-1980s, only four auditors took courses. Since then, the number of auditors has increased significantly.
“To me, it’s ... among the few tangible gifts for others that Georgetown continues to give,” Ridder said. “[Healy] said it’s unwritten, but a Jesuit university’s responsibility extends to the community in which it resides.”
The auditor program is open to adults over the age of 65 and costs $50 per course. There is no limit to the number of classes auditors can take; however, auditors cannot enroll in courses that include laboratory or hands-on components or in first- or second-year language classes.
Auditors are concentrated in certain departments.
“A lot of the auditors I’ve talked to have taken courses in theology and art, particularly art history — those are not really fields that
teresinterest me much, but it shows that older people have a multiplicity in interests just like younger people do.” said Pat Fleming, who worked as a legislative assistant for Sen. James William Fulbright (D-Ark.) during the 1960s and is a member of associate professor David Painter’s class, “Oil and World Power.”
Admission to a class is contingent on professor approval, but most faculty accept auditors because they contribute a unique perspective to class discussions, according to assistant professor of music Robynn Stilwell.
“A lot of times, the classes I’m teaching are electives for a lot of students, so there’s a certain amount of interest that’s there,” Stilwell said. “But certainly, [if] someone who has a day job is making time to come … it reminds me of … the potential for interest beyond the academic walls of the university.”
Like Ridder, Stilwell sees the senior auditor program as a way for the university to connect develop relationships beyond the front gates.
“Auditing, especially the senior auditing, is a nice way to put holes in that wall and make connections out,” she said. “That’s not always that easy to do in a classroom situation.”
According to Painter, senior auditors can provide firsthand knowledge of historical events.
“In these classes, they’re an asset you can draw on, and people will talk about what they felt like during the ’60s and the anti-war movement,” Painter said. “They’re more like a resource for me, and I’m sure they are for the students.”
Mike Feinsilber, another auditor in Painter’s class, who witnessed the Vietnam War, the Nixon presidency and Watergate as a reporter for United Press International and the Associated Press. He said that studying the events he lived through validates his career.
“I had a feeling, ‘Yeah, we had it right.’ Yeah, we reporters, the journalists, had it right. We did get the story, at least the big major outline,” Feinsilber said. “There are always details, but that was very satisfactory, very satisfying.”
Fleming also enjoyed studying events he experienced firsthand.
“When we talk about the Cuban missile crisis, I remember when that was going on. When we talk about the Kennedy-Johnson campaign, I remember when that was going on,” Fleming said. “It’s quite interesting to see it examined from an academic perspective some years later.”
For Painter, the benefits of teaching students closer to his own age are a little less academic.
“I really like them,” he said. “They get my jokes.”
Auditors also said Georgetown courses changed their perspective on the history they were taught when they were young.