Sleep and Dreams: A Legitimate Class?

The recent announcement that Sleep and Dreams will no longer fulfill the Natural Science GER has sparked much discussion on campus. While, with some modifications, the class does have the potential to satisfy a General Education Requirement, at this point it has been deemed not serious and intensive enough to do so. I recently attended a lecture in order to try to discover the rationale for the administration’s controversial decision.

Walking into a Sleep and Dreams lecture, it is hard not to notice that Kresge auditorium, where the class is held, is filled to the brim. Given the large amount of class time dedicated to issues that are only loosely related to the class syllabus, the high attendance is surprising. Professor Dement, who has been teaching the class for more than 39 years, brings up a very wide range of issues during his lectures, including his experiences while in a fraternity, his disappointment with former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, and his troubles during a past Parents Weekend, among others. Why, then, is the lecture so full? According to Sarah Stiltner ‘12, “It’s because Dr. Dement is entertaining.”

One fascinating part of the class is the extra-credit lottery. In every lecture, five members of the class are randomly selected to be the winners, their names being revealed in the lecture slides. At this point, the winners must stand up and shout: “Drowsiness is red alert!” In total, there are five winners, making this segment of the class last for approximately 10 minutes. The lottery is part of an ongoing effort by Dr. Dement to raise awareness about the importance of being alert, arguing that it could mean the difference between life and death.

It would be unfair to say the class is completely unrelated to science. In the lecture I attended, approximately five slides contained notes that actually related to the class material. While Dr. Dement discusses these slides, many members of the class minimize Facebook on their laptops and disregard their phones to take these notes. The class also involves several assignments, including journal entries, an outreach project, a sleep project, a midterm, a final, and a 450-page reading written by the Professor himself.

Professor Dement is fully aware that his class attracts mostly humanities majors hoping to fulfill the Natural Science GER. For instance, when he asked if there were any Pre-Med students in the room, only one student raised her hand. Despite this reputation, Dr. Dement passionately emphasizes the importance of understanding sleep. For example, he claims that Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, said sleep education could increase American productivity by 1%. Although Dr. Dement understands that his class is an easy way to fulfill a GER, he truly believes in what he teaches. He even suggests the possibility of states making sleep education mandatory.

When I spoke with the Professor, he told me the GER was removed from his class without his approval or even consultation. He feels he should have been consulted beforehand in order to work out a compromise regarding the GER issue. Dr. Dement argues that there is no specific set of requirements set by the university in order for a class to fulfill a GER. He believes that the Registrar Office should have contacted him first and allowed him to make the changes necessary to keep the GER.

Although the class is far from a classical chemistry or biology class, it is not for lack of credentials on the part of Dr. Dement. An eminent scholar in his field, his resume includes the founding of the American Sleep Disorders Association and chairing the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research.

The group of people affected most by the decision to revoke Sleep and Dreams’ Natural Science GER are the students. Many were planning to take this course to fulfill this requirement. In the wake of this decision, however, these students will have to find another class to fulfill this requirement. Derrick Davis ‘10, who was planning to take the class, lamented the decision, stating, “There aren’t other easy classes that I know of that fulfill the science GER requirement.” If the administration’s decision is not overturned, Derrick, along with many other students, will have to find other ways to fulfill this GER, whether it be with Plants and Civilization, Weather and Storms, or a traditional science course like Chem 31A.

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