The ISLS Program
Submitted by Dick Albert
Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters and Science, or ISLS, began in
the mid sixties as an alternative way for students to fulfill basic
course requirements in their first year and a half of college. Team
taught by five teachers in Humanities, Math-Science, Biology, Social
Studies and English, the program featured primary works - no
textbooks - a kind of Great Books program. 150 students agreed to
stay in the program for three semesters, and received credit for
basic requirements without taking separate courses. It was an
intensive modular system in which the students would spend the time
usually taken up by four or five different courses, studying one
work at a time for two weeks. The teachers took turns presenting
lectures in the morning, then each teacher took one fifth of the
students after lunch for small group discussions and writing papers.
Beginning with the ancient Greeks - Homer, Plato, Sophocles, Euclid
- by the end of the third semester, the students were reading
writers such as Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf and Frank Lloyd Wright,
having visited writers along the way like Dante, Machiavelli,
Shakespeare, Voltaire, Galileo, Darwin, Marx, Freud and Einstein.
In its later years the curriculum was expanded beyond the
traditional Western Civ. emphasis to include works like Rashomon and
the Popul Vuh. Most of the ISLS students went on to four year
colleges, many to first rate institutions such as U.C. Berkeley and
Mills College. In the 1990s the program began taking students to
England and France for study abroad, where students participated in
a homestay program and received credit for Humanities, a Shakespeare
course, and Political Science, a comparative study of British and
American systems of government.
For forty years the program was a great success. Begun by Gene
Marker, Mary Lou Fitzgerald, Barbara Pope, George Sage and Alan
Silverthorn, many different teachers taught in it over the years.
Over three thousand students have vivid memories of the excellent
preparation the ISLS program afforded them, preparation for the
university and for lives as well educated and responsible citizens.
The ISLS program was terminated in 2005, as a cost-saving measure.
College leaders decided that with prevailing budget constraints, the
program, with its expensive student/teacher ratio, simply wasn’t
cost effective. The changing demographics of the college also may
have played a part in their decision. Whatever the reasoning, Chabot
College lost a unique and valuable program when ISLS was eliminated
from the curriculum.
Return to Table of Contents