Scholars at Wright



In October 1994, Edward Mogul, then an Assistant Professor at Wright College appeared on a televised debate (WYCC-Channel 20) on multiculturalism sponsored by the Faculty Council in Honor of Ronald Temple's Inauguration as Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. In that debate, Professor Mogul argued in favor of teaching great authors from the Western canon such as Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes. In the time constraints of community colleges, he said, where the students usually only attend for two years, the curriculum should focus on the seminal documents of western culture, the great books.

Acting on that idea, in the Fall of 1996, Mogul offered the first of now an unbroken string of semiannual Great Books courses where scholars from all over gather to teach one great work from their own point of view. The first book, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, was taught by 1) Jess Maghan, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois Circle Campus, Director of the Center of Criminal Justice Research and a world famous expert in penology; 2) Peter Kaye, Adjunct Professor of Literature at Northwestern, whose doctoral dissertation at Stanford on Dostoevsky was subsequently published by Cambridge University Press; 3) Donald Barshis, then dean of Wright College, who had studied literature at the University of Chicago with, among others Wayne Booth, and who had a Ph.D. in rhetoric from the U of C; and 4) Professor Mogul.


The following semester, exploring the Oedipus Cycle, Jane Upin, later Chairman of the Humanities Department at Wright, who has a Ph.D, from the University of Chicago in Philosophy, joined the group of lecturers.

The program continued doing one great book each semester, always with four faculty members from different colleges or universities, some of whom had published on the book being studied.

In 1997 the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois Humanities Council and the Illinois General Assembly honored the program by awarding a mini-grant.

Peter Kaye, a scholar of Comparative Literature, who recently won an award himself as the outstanding adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University has been the literary consultant to the Scholars at Wright program from the beginning.

Michael Petersen, then a teacher at St. Patrick's High School, joined the group in 1998 as high school coordinator. He has since become a member of the Wright College faculty, in the English Department, and remains as coordinator of this program.

The program has involved such scholars as Sylvie Romanowski, Chairman of the Graduate French Department at Northwestern University who lectured on Proust's Swann's Way; Marc Cogan, whose book on the structure of Dante's Inferno was published by Notre Dame Press, lectured on the Inferno; Jarrell Howard of Northeastern University, a published authority on the literature of America's South, lectured on Faulkner's Light in August; and Robert Pippin, Chairman of the Committee for Social Thought at the University of Chicago, who had just published a celebrated book on Henry James, lectured on James' Portrait of a Lady.

The program has grown to include, Advanced Placement, English high school students from several Chicago and some suburban high schools as well as adult learners, including Gladys Pledger an avid reader and regular attendee who will celebrate her 100th birthday in June, 2002.

In addition to the NEH grant, funding for the program has been provided by Wright College President Charles Guengerich, and Wright College Continuing Education, Cynthia Clontz. The program has also received a private donation from Carla and Alan Price to pay for the books for students who could not afford them.

Hopefully, the idea of bringing students of all backgrounds together with scholars to study a great book will continue for a long time to come.


© 2011
Scholars at Wright