"Great Books" and "Western Civilization Courses", Core 151 at Colgate, Uncategorized

Core Curricula: A Micro or Macro Issue?

In recent decades, the conversations surrounding the appropriateness and viability of core curricula classes around the nation have only increased. These discussions have spanned from here at Colgate University to as far as Stanford University. While there is a general agreement amongst students that the core curricula needs to be altered, there are numerous differing opinions on why. These reasons range from micro-level issues such as what texts are read to larger issues such as the number of required courses. 

Colgate’s core curriculum consists of four classes; three humanities courses and a science class. However, most scrutiny is directed towards two of the English courses, Legacies of the Ancient World and Challenges of Modernity. One of the most common complaints regarding the conversation around Colgate’s core curriculum is that it is too Eurocentric. For years, students have grumbled that the texts read in Legacies and Challenges are not diverse enough and do not present perspectives other than that of an older, white male. Here at Colgate, the most prevalent complaints seem to revolve around the content that is consumed in these core courses as opposed to the volume.

Sophomore, Owen Oulundsen, points out that “[the texts in Challenges of Modernity and Legacies of the Ancient World] leave something to be desired. In both classes, nearly all the texts are of European origin and do not include people of color.” 

Additionally, Oulundsen added that “I like that we are required to take English courses that are intended on making us more worldly, I just think the texts that are chosen aren’t the best.” 

An example of a list of texts that are required in a Colgate Challenges of Modernity course. Some of these texts are required to be taught by Colgate and others are the teacher’s choosing. 

Now over 100 years old, Columbia’s seven core curriculum helped popularize the liberal arts education that has become so popular such as here at Colgate. These classes range from Literature Humanities I to Frontiers of Science. However, unlike Colgate, Columbia does not have a core revision committee and has not amended its core curriculum in decades. 

On its website Columbia states, “The mission of the Core is the goal of providing all Columbia students…  the skills and habits honed by the Core-observation, analysis, imaginative comparison, argument, respect for others’ ideas, nuances and differences-provide a rigorous preparation for life as an intelligent and engaged citizen in today’s complex and changing world.” 

While Colgate students are primarily bothered by the micro details of what specific texts are read, Columbia students are seemingly more troubled by the volume of core classes that are required. 

According to Michael Ritter, a junior member of the Columbia varsity rowing team, the sheer volume of classes in Columbia’s core curriculum makes it very hard for students to feel engaged. He said, “Columbia’s core is challenging, broad, and sometimes doesn’t appear too relevant. I like that it is a challenging part of completing a degree here aside from any majors and concentrations but I find that it is hard to go to a class that is really difficult that you are not very passionate about.” 

When asked about changes he would make, Ritter responded, “I wish the school would drop some core classes. The seven core requirements make it super hard to take other interesting electives.” In addition to the lack of freedom that seven required courses causes, running so many core classes, especially abroad, is quite expensive. Columbia received two grants from the Mellon Foundation, in 2012 and in 2015 for a bit over $2 million respectively, with the sole intention of funding the core. The grant was not extended past 2018 leaving the university to fill the funding gap. 

Although at different institutions, Owen Oulundsen and Michael Ritter’s perspectives go to show that the dialogue surrounding core curricula is a multi-faceted one in which there are no explicitly correct answers. While some argue that the texts are too pale, male and stale, others look past these facts and instead have issues with the curriculum constraints that are instilled due to a high number of core classes. Although there is no concrete answer, it is evident that further conversations are required throughout universities across the country in order to hear more people’s voices and appeal to a wider range of students. While it is obviously impossible to please everyone, institutions such as Columbia who have not altered their core curriculum in decades, owe their students the respect they deserve and must engage in these difficult conversations going forward. 

By Leo Weiss