Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Western Civ and the University: a Postscript
At my boss' request, I attended the committee meeting about the proposed changes to the general education requirements at my university. I attended as a visitor, meaning that I was basically an observer and was not there to speak. Actually, thanks to the heated exchanges with a few history professors, the two admins running the meeting asked visitors to please refrain from making remarks until the end, if there was time then.
Actually, it was this heated exchange which is probably of most interest to readers here. Big Wig Number 1 (a vice Provost of some sort) began to explain that the reason why Western Civilization (history) was being removed from the required history courses and being made into and "elective" (meaning that it fulfills a requirement, but is one of several ways of fulfilling that requirement) is that is is "too Euro-centric." To be fair, ours is a fairly global campus, but given that we are situated in the US and hence in Western civilization, this really shouldn't be a problem.
And, true to form, the three history professors who attended (two as visitors, one as an actual committee member) shouted in unison that this wasn't a good reason to remove it. And then the heated exchange began, not because the history professors (all of whom teach Western Civ, non of whom were among the colleagues whom I mentioned previously) were standing up for the value of a student's learning the history of his culture. Oh, no. Their defense was rather that the charge* of being "Euro-centric" was simply inaccurate as applied to Western Civ.
This is why I can't bring myself to write a rousing defense for Western Civ.'s being a required course, even though I firmly believe that it is probably the single most important history course (as pertains to what it should be teaching) which might be offered under the heading of "general education." I wonder what course a student would take if that student actually wanted to learn about European history. Once that would have been titled "Western Civ" (with some appropriate course designation).
*Some specific context is warranted here. Big Wig Number 1 was not complaining that "Western Civ" ignores contributions from (say) Egypt, or Russia, or Babylon, or Israel. One might argue that these shouldn't really be included anyway, as they are more-or-less precursors to Western Civ, and that Western Civ should include Greece, Rome, and the various states and empires which grew from the fall of Rome. This is not his line of argument. Rather, his protests was that there wasn't enough about Asia, and that we in America should look across both oceans. Point well taken, at least in our present millieu, but canning Western Civ is not the way to do this.