Peter Berkowitz, member of the board of the National Association of Scholars and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, writes on the need for an undergraduate liberal education based on the classics of Western civilization.
This week The Stanford Review—an independent undergraduate political magazine that seeks “to promote debate about campus and national issues that are otherwise not represented by traditional publications”—issued a bold manifesto aimed at advancing liberal education on campus and nationally. The student journalists urge Stanford’s Faculty Senate to “mandate that freshmen complete a two-quarter Western Civilization requirement covering the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world.” To ensure that the proposal is placed on the undergraduate spring ballot – approval would put students on record as supporting the call – 5 percent of the student body (350 undergrads) must sign an online petition.
If the principles of liberal education and considerations of enlightened public interest governed decisions about academic life at our universities, then the Stanford faculty would vote in overwhelming numbers to adopt a requirement very much like the one proposed by the Stanford Review. Then again, if the principles of liberal education and considerations of enlightened public interest governed decisions about academic life at our universities, it would not fall to undergraduates to instruct professors in the fundamentals of a truly liberal education and to entreat their teachers to provide it.
How did it come to this?