one-sided it falls off my bookshelf."
The controversy over the Western Civilization course
is an opportunity for serious educational discussion. As head of the American
Council of Trustees and Alumni, which coordinated the statement by Saul Bellow,
Mary Ann Glendon, David Riesman, and other distinguished scholars questioning
the change, I was disappointed to see President Randel defend it with arguments
that seem disingenuous and insulting ("From
the President," June/02).
the current Western Civilization course praise its scope from the Hebrews and
Greeks to the recent past. The president responds that the combination of the
two-quarter course, the Ancient Mediterranean World, and the new two-quarter European
Civilization course (which begins with the Middle Ages) has similar scope.
gives the misleading impression that students will be taking both courses. In
fact, students can fully meet the civilization requirement by taking only one
of the two courses. Few, if any, students will take both courses.
president then proceeds to compare a commitment to the Western Civilization course
with one's taste in popular music, which, he says, "ceases to change after
one's early 20s," implying that critics of the change are oldsters beset
with "nostalgia" (another of his epithets). This is an ill-disguised
and somewhat misplaced ad hominem, since critics of the change include current
students and faculty, not just alumni and academic senior statesmen.
final argument seems to be that "things change": "Why should we
wish to adhere eternally to narratives about our history written by some number
of German or British writers of the 19th century?" That rhetorical question
has about as much relevance as "Why should we continue to abide by a Bill
of Rights written by former colonists distrustful of kings?" The fact that
things change is not an argument for any particular change. Each proposed change
must be defended on its merits.
In short, President
Randel gives us no substantive reason to believe that a two-quarter sequence in
which European civilization begins in the Middle Ages is superior to a course
with the scope and substance of Western Civilization.
L. Martin, AM'66
me for being slow, but President Don M. Randel's explanation for the changes in
the course offerings did not make anything clear. He acknowledges that there has
been a reduction in the number of sections to be offered in the three-quarter
Western Civilizations sequence. He assures us that nevertheless the University
is still on the same course. But he does not explain why the reduction was necessary.
Is there less student demand for this sequence? Is it difficult to find professors
who know enough to teach it? The last possibility is particularly worrisome. If
we no longer have professors who can muster a clear grasp of the outlines and
details of Western Civ, then our civilization is surely in trouble. If students
have lost interest, that is probably a result of bad teaching.
remember the sequence as the high point of my education-but then I had the privilege
of studying with Professor Karl Weintraub. If the University neglects to hire
serious historians and thinkers who can teach in favor of high-profile faddists,
then there surely has been a change in course. Perhaps this is the time to make
the course a requirement, for both students and teachers.
Danzig, AB'83, AM'94
Ramat Gan, Israel
read about the changes wrought by the history department and thought to add my
thoughts to the matter.
As a student who began
the program as a narrow and specialized science-oriented "nerd," I speak
from a perspective that is likely overlooked, which is that of a convert to the
arts and to a liberal education.
My only real
pleasures at the U of C during the first years were those very courses that have
been under the knife. One cannot say that Western Civ has not been eviscerated.
The substitution of alternative Civ courses is not the same. Studying Western
Civ taught this rather ignorant 18-year-old just why we presume or interpret the
world as we do with the myths of history as our paradigm for the world and its
interpretation. Removing or shortening the courses as has been done little by
little, or giving so-called alternative civilization courses, has obliterated
the very stimulus that turned me from a self- assured science punk into what I
hope is a more modest and surely less arrogant individual who ended up a professor
of art in spite of a bachelor's degree in biopsychology. I dare say I owe it to
Western Civ and the humanities courses that I was assigned to take.
U of C made a lot of mistakes with my education, and I felt poorly served much
of the time. The U of C was a misery of a grind. The dorms were cramped, noisy,
dirty, and of miserable design and functionality. The required meals were swill
and insufficient for a young man still growing. The feeling that I was already
three weeks behind one day after classes began was not the way to nurture the
mind of this student. The one bright spot was Western Civ.
is Chicago's Achilles' heel. There should be none, and the College should be three
years long. For those who want to study in the Divisions, let them have their
way with their own students and give them a degree appropriate to that specialization,
but give those who go through the College, the U of C degree in liberal arts with
a minor in whatever division they choose to work during the last year. After all,
any school can teach first-year chem or biology or stats or physics.
will lose what individuality it has by making the College less significant and
by affecting it through a slow assimilation into mainstream education. The profound
failing of so many universities to teach a true liberal education must not percolate
into the U of C. I fear it has already done so. Alas.