West Missing from Curriculum

In 1988, Jesse Jackson and Stanford students protested, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!” These protests yielded the desired results, as Stanford no longer required courses in Western Civilization and multiculturalism pervaded the curriculum. Still, Stanford has no classics requirements and universities often face claims of having a lack of courses in their curriculums that teach about conservative political thought.

One critic of this new situation has spoken out boldly in opposition. Dr. Peter Berkowitz, a fellow with the Hoover Institution in Washington D.C., explained some of his views on this issue to The Stanford Review.

According to Berkowitz, an understanding of American political life can only come with the inclusion of conservative political thought in the curriculum.  He states, “If you want to understand the liberal tradition which gave birth to American institutions, you need to understand the conservative side of that as well.”

Berkowitz expounded upon the tenets of a “conservative side” in a Wall Street Journal article that he wrote in June 2009. He claimed that conservative thought “emphasizes moral and intellectual excellence,” stresses the protection of individual liberty, strives to understand the “role religion can play in educating citizens for liberty,” and defends capitalism.  He listed Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, and several other conservative thinkers, many of whom cannot be found in Stanford course descriptions.

Specific to Stanford’s case is a core curriculum that does not require students to take Western civilization courses. The Western civilization requirements made students read and analyze texts that formed the groundwork for liberal political systems and modern Western thought. In the interview Berkowitz explained, “All college students should be required to become familiar with the history, the great ideas, the literature, the art, the politics, and the economics of Western civilization.” But since protests in 1988 led by Jesse Jackson, multicultural requirements have offered an alternative to Western civilization requirements.

But Berkowitz certainly does not prescribe the end of multiculturalism as a core requirement.  “I hasten to add that I see no contradiction between the imperative to understand one’s own civilization and the imperative to learn about other civilizations,” he stated.  But he is wary about biased multiculturalism teaching that “western culture is somehow inferior.”

In holding to high standards, Berkowitz believes that “an education that genuinely took other cultures and peoples seriously would have a rigorous language requirement.” Fulfilling this requirement would mean being able to fluently read a newspaper or book in a foreign language, a feat that generally takes more than one year of study.  With this, the student could truly delve into the literature and history of that culture.

Introduction to the Humanities largely represents the replacement for Stanford’s Western civilization requirement.  While it offers a course in classics and in the making of the modern world, students are not required to take either of these.  If desired, students can almost totally avoid Western civilization in their selection of IHum, PWR, and GER courses.

Beyond just the required curriculum, Berkowitz stresses the need for classes on conservative thought in the political science department as well. He wrote in his Wall Street Journal article, “Most students will hear next to nothing about the conservative tradition in American politics.” Although Stanford doesn’t offer specific courses that specialize in liberal or progressive theory, very few prominent conservative thinkers make their way into political science courses, according to course descriptions. They might still be read in the class, but cannot compete with the thinkers who are the main focus.

“The ultimate responsibility is with faculty,” Berkowitz stated. “Faculty members are given the responsibility to shape a valuable curriculum.” Thus, solving the problem would mean that “…the faculty would have to be aware that there is a hole in the curriculum.” Berkowitz advocates a curriculum balanced between multiculturalism and Western civilization and between conservative and liberal political theory. To create such a curriculum, some universities might need to hire more professors with expertise in the subject area.

However, Berkowitz made it clear that he is not advocating affirmative action for conservative professors, a process in which the university would hire conservatives simply because they have a quota to fill. “Political opinions should not become a requirement for teaching at a university,” he said. In filling the hole in the curriculum, universities should not “seek out political conservatives,” but should rather, “seek out experts in this area.” In his *Wall Street Journal *article, Berkowitz explains that one must not possess the ideology of conservatism to teach a course on it, but must simply be an expert in the subject area. Because people who choose to become experts in the area often possess the ideology, more conservative professors would be hired without affirmative action.

Until universities begin reshaping their curriculums, students will have to rely on themselves to acquire knowledge on this issue. When asked what he thought about the Intercollegiate Studies Institute reading group on campus last year, Dr. Berkowitz acclaimed, “I think that’s a great idea.”  He encourages the use of libraries and the internet to find materials to supplement one’s education.  If students are willing to seek out information and make time in their schedules, then they will be able to supplement their university education with conservative political thought.

Ultimately, the present offers a prime time for curriculum change. Vice Provost John Bravman has recently introduced the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford, a two-year project that will assess the undergraduate curriculum. Specifically, the study will examine the number and type of courses required of all students. It is not known yet if the study will address the lack of conservative thought in the curriculum. But the study and awareness of the issue itself will certainly rise in prominence because, as Dr. Berkowitz says, “The American political institution is constituted not by one, but by both.”

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