Opinion | Op-eds

No to the siren song aimed at Columbia College

At great universities such as our own, we celebrate and claim to protect freedom of expression for all. It is therefore surprising that University trustees rarely exercise the vaunted campus right of free expression. They are apparently to speak only behind the veil of closed, formal deliberations; a kind of omertà keeps the individual views of the trustees private. With due acknowledgement for this tradition of silence, I emphasize that the comments below are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Columbia Trustees as a group. That said, my perspectives on Columbia College, its Core Curriculum, and University governance are matters of public record. I write merely to pose the following questions:

Where are the ongoing discussions about the future of Columbia College and its deanship headed? Toward greater College control of its academic and other resources? Or toward an ever-stronger embrace by the central administration? Who knows? Rest assured, I do not know—and I do not think that any other Columbia Trustee knows the direction in which we are moving (if any).

The resignation in protest by the dean of Columbia College in late August 2011 was abrupt and public. It raised serious allegations that administrative changes contemplated by the University would further diminish the already-attenuated authority of the dean over “crucial policy, fund-raising, and budgetary matters” (“Consultants’ budget, structure recommendations at core of Moody-Adams’ resignation,” Aug. 23).

College alumni were understandably alarmed, and they reacted swiftly, and strongly. They were particularly concerned about the fate of the Core Curriculum in a governance structure in which most budgetary and educational decisions were apparently to be made in Low Library rather than in Hamilton Hall.

College alumni have a special love for the rigorous Core program that seeks to introduce students (in the words of our great scholarly exemplar, Jacques Barzun) to “the three live subject matters in modern life—science, social science, and the humanities.”

Since 1919, the Core has been the hallmark of a Columbia College education and it is arguably the most important contributor to the prestige of the general Columbia “brand.” For College alumni, and perhaps especially for those of us from marginalized minority and colonial communities, the Core provided a general education grounded in the intellectual history of the culture in which we lived. I say grounded in—but not beholden to—because the Core also teaches students to think critically.

Of course, a curriculum grounded in the idea of a common culture rooted in the Western tradition is now an endangered species, subject to the pressures of trendy cultural relativism even at Columbia. Only the continued vigilance of College alumni, outspoken and ever grateful for the blessings of the Core over a lifetime, can secure the identity and autonomy of the College in the years ahead.

In the aftermath of the dean’s resignation, the University administration has been anxious to assuage the concerns of this important and generous constituency. It has undertaken a public and private charm offensive aimed at College alumni, including invitations for “big hitters” to the President’s house. It has reaffirmed to one and all the wonders of the Core Curriculum and asserted that “the ongoing discussions involving faculty, alumni, and administrators”—the very “ongoing discussions” that triggered the resignation of the Dean of the College—were “about how to position the college more centrally in the life of Columbia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences” (“Dean Moody-Adams steps down,” Aug. 21).

This is the siren call, heard many times over in the months since the dean’s resignation. Despite the warm embrace suggested by a goal of “position[ing] the college more centrally in the life of Columbia’s faculty of arts and sciences,” this is exactly what proponents of Columbia College and the Core should fear most. Indeed, a close reading of that text reveals an encoded restatement of the problem rather than its solution. It should not give College alumni comfort.

As if to confirm this view, we have been afforded instruction on how College alumni ought to behave by the dean of the graduate school, Carlos Alonso.

In a Spectator article this year ("Teaching and research at Columbia," Feb. 17), Dean Alonso deployed the language of postmodernist cultural studies (the “knowledge of the mutual imbrication of all the University’s components ... should be the guiding principle for all of Columbia’s constituencies”) to describe the history of Columbia. Specifically, he claimed that “there was a time when Columbia College and the Graduate Faculties ... hired separate faculty and essentially lived parallel lives.” In those times, Alonso asserted, “the teaching and research functions of the University were divorced,” and teaching, apparently relegated to the College, “acquired a second-class status.”

This jaundiced view of the College’s history will come as a surprise to alumni who were privileged to take courses by eminent professors in all fields, including Nobel laureates who taught Physics 1–2, a serious course for non-majors.

Dean Alonso’s spectacular misunderstanding of Columbia College history prefaced a homily on the interdependence of the various schools of the University, and on the need for “coordination and mobilization of resources in a way that allows for the pursuit of quality on all fronts at once.” College alumni were told that “demanding that Columbia College become or remain autonomous from the rest of the Arts and Sciences or the University,” or “demand[ing] that every dollar that Columbia College collects ... be invested in Columbia College—instead of being used even partially to finance the ‘research’ component of the University—is pernicious for a number of reasons,” including the “fostering [of] fantasies of untrammeled au±tonomy [that] distorts [an] interdependent reality.”

Translation: Kindly back off, and make your contributions to Columbia without “strings” attached, so that we can determine how best to apply your gifts within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Until the position of dean of Columbia College is no longer merely a dean of students; until the dean of the College is an authentic dean of the faculty, with a significant role in the hiring and promotion of faculty, in capital budget deliberations, and in the various committees that govern the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; until the dean of the College is incorporated fully into the leadership of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the identity and autonomy of the College will continue to erode. Its fate will be in the hands of functionaries for whom the College and the Core are distant concerns.

In sum, until these objectives are achieved, the response of loyal and generous College alumni to suggestions like those of the dean of the graduate school should be, in the spirit of the poet Ogden Nash’s one-liner on my beloved Bronx—“No thonx.”

The author is a graduate of Columbia Class of 1961, a United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Second Circuit, and has served as a trustee of Columbia University since 2000. He delivered the keynote address at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Core Curriculum in 1994. In addition to his service as a trustee of other institutions, including 12 years as a member of the Yale Corporation, he was a founder of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and chairman of Aspira of New York, an organization seeking to expand opportunities in higher education for urban Hispanic youth.

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Anonymous posted on

I do have one question for you, Mr. Cabranes: why the emphasis on the Western canon? You call cultural relativism "trendy," and I question that. Is your mission to maintain Columbia's identity as a Western university? What is the point of having international students at Columbia if we only cater to the intellectual history of one culture? Isn't their diversity useless? And aren't we homogenizing the student body, students who are–arguably–going to be the future leaders in non-Western societies as well as the United States? I'm not sure about the answers to these questions, but I do think that there may be a value to a more multicultural approach to the Core. Maybe a reform of the Global Core would be better, turning it into a CC with different cultural "tracks?" 

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Anonymous posted on

You come to the US to study western civilization. You go to China or Japan to study Eastern civilization.

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Anonymous posted on

no we come here for many diff reasons, to do research, have access to excellent scientific faculties, brilliant peers etc. not to study 'western civilization'

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Anonymous posted on

That sounds like graduate studies, not undergraduate studies.
The Core is an undergraduate program.

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Anonymous posted on

no, i am referring to the undergraduates who i know who came here because they wanted access to Professor's lab, wanted to do research at the undergrad level (columbia IS primarily a research university after all), or those who wanted access to lucrative consulting/finance jobs that only hire from a few selective universities. 

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Anonymous posted on

 then you should have done your homework. The Core has been an important part of the Columbia College education for generations. Who the F are you to change it for your whims? There are other schools to consider - maybe Barnard?

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Anonymous posted on

i'm not changing anything, just pointing out the fallacy in your statement that we all came here to learn 'western civilization'.

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Anonymous posted on

Mr. Cabranes is not discussing Columbia University as a whole; rather, he is discussing Columbia College. Columbia College is a liberal arts undergraduate college, and while there are strong research opportunities, an even cursory understanding of CC's place within the greater University would make that very clear. 

To choose to go to a school only as a stepping stone, with no interest in the actual education or culture in which you are immersed for four years of your life is unfortunately becoming the norm. Education and knowledge has been, across the board, corporatized. While there are certainly problems with the Core, and many of the professors here that I most respect have posed thoughtful critiques of both its content and its actual existence, it is the single factor that truly distinguishes Columbia College from other similar institutions (similar, that is, in terms of prestige, etc.) As a student exclusively studying non-Western cultures and societies, the questions asked and material covered in my CC and Lit Hum classes have proved most valuable, both in my academic work and in my life outside of Morningside Heights. So please, while you and your friends might be hardened to the value of education for education's sake, please do not presume that we are all here just for our diploma. 

Thank you, Mr. Cabranes, for your thoughtful, clear, and (refreshingly) passionate defense of undergraduate education here at Columbia.

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Anonymous posted on

Superb, then Columbia should stop making grand claims about making itself a global university.

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Anonymous posted on

Because the education that Columbia provides is most suited to preparing students for a Western intellectual context-- Western standards and modes of argumentation. Moreover the education is provided in English. Because the context of Columbia and the education it provides is definitively Western, the Western canon is disproportionately relevant and important to a Columbia education.

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Anonymous posted on

The Core is Columbia. Young one, I think you chose the wrong school. And if you have a passion for "non-Western" canonical texts..that's awesome that you have that extra interest...perhaps your time would be better spent reading and learning more about that then insulting one of CC's most intelligent alumni and university trustee. Perhaps I underestimate your knowledge of how this institution works because of your limited experience here, your familiarity with issues of separation between the College and GSAS, and the unjustified power that Alonso has been exerting on this University. It's just embarrassing to see this as the first comment to one of the best written and most important topics addressed in a Spec article. Perhaps you will learn to express your frustration elsewhere. I hope for your mental and emotional well-being. Enjoy the break kiddo.

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Anonymous posted on

Jih2b2kewl - your sentiments are laudable, but your target is slightly off.

Carlos Alonso has no power. He's a functionary. He's not just the dean of a school, but the dean of the poorest school at Columbia, GSAS, which generates no revenue (since all its PhD students go there for free and get a $20K+ stipend to boot) but funds itself predominantly off the backs of the tuition-paying parents of Columbia College students.
The unjustified power comes from Nicholas Dirks, progenitor of postmodernism and architect of the anthropology department, currently serving as Executive Vice President of Arts & Sciences. He, and he alone, has power over the faculty of arts & sciences, over their budget, teaching responsibilities, promotion, tenure, and standards of scholarship.

In between eating babies and plotting the invasion of Poland, he is constantly trying to castrate the College's financial independence, dilute its academic offerings, weaken the power of its Dean, and redirect its substantial resources and loyal alumni to fund his bizarre schemes toward a transformative hermeneutics of mutual imbrication.

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Anonymous posted on

"He's not just the dean of a school, but the dean of the poorest school at Columbia, GSAS, which generates no revenue (since all its PhD students go there for free and get a $20K+ stipend to boot) but funds itself predominantly off the backs of the tuition-paying parents of Columbia College students"
Your comment disregards the inherent value of an undergraduate education in itself, and the value (both implicit and explicit) that PhD students in GSAS provide. I can't even begin to enumerate what those are now, because of their number and degree of obviousness. 

In response: Columbia College is comprised of faculty members. Impressive faculty members. Nobel Prize Winners. Macarthur fellows. Guggenheim fellows. Etc. With the exception of Suhil Gulati, to my knowledge, virtually all faculty members at the college have a PhD -- during which they worked their ASSES off to get a measly 22k (or its equivalent at the time) that helps you scrap by. I don't quite see what argument you're trying to make. And I would like to see some statement or evidence showing where PhD students receive their "oh so lavish" funding -- from the Professional Graduate Programs in Law, Medicine, International Affairs, Journalism, Social Work, Earth Institute (etc), the University collects around 70k/year/student. Not to mention that the university does have a multi-billion dollar endowment, in case you have forgotten. 

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Anonymous posted on

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/sen...
HENRY PINKHAM: In fact, in the last few years, there’s been this radical proposal that’s completely changing graduate education, that all Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences be fully funded, and that’s a goal we’re trying to achieve right now. Now, some of you, I know, feel upset because that goal hasn’t been completely realized yet at Columbia. The reason it hasn’t been realized is because the base on which we can fund graduate education is essentially undergraduate tuition. That’s where the money comes from. There’s a little bit of endowment income also, and there’s M.A. tuition income, which has gone up because we’ve created all these programs. We have about $5 million from M.A. tuition income.HENRY PINKHAM: Well, certainly the University will try as hard as it can to keep the kind of funding packages. The reality right now is that we don’t have the money to do that. And because, as Professor Connors was saying, it’s sort of a crazy business model we have, we’re getting [the money] out of a small number of undergraduates, in fact a much smaller number of undergraduates than at NYU. And because we’re trying to keep a larger graduate school than at NYU, we simply at this point don’t have the money to do what NYU has been able to do in terms of moving quickly to the full-funded model.

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ppc... 

Funding for graduate student support comes from undergraduate tuition.  Because Columbia’s undergraduate population is the smallest in the Ivy League, the Arts and Sciences has had to turn to master’s only tuition to make-up the difference.

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colulion posted on

I do not know if I have read a more eloquently stated exploration of the role of the College. As a College alum, and an passionate advocate, I do greatly appreciate Judge Cabranes's position and indeed his quite wonderful exposition. Honestly, it makes me proud to be a Columbian to know that someone is willing to spend the kind of time to produce prose of such power.

However, I do not enjoy that he vilifies Dean Alonso, an individual I had as a student at Columbia [who sheltered me at a time when I had a very poor classroom experience] and who in great honesty lacks many of the idle problematics of post-modern culturalists that Cabranes proclaims. Yet I appreciate, as a Columbian, the way he scythes Dean Alonso; his careful turning of phrase takes me back to First-Year UW class and the method taught and engrained in me today. The lesson from another post-modern culturalist, Edward Said, as he slyly re-orients the words of Balfour to develop new meaning. What I take from Judge Cabranes's writing is the beauty of the Core at its heart. It is the Core in praxis. But the Core in praxis must always be criticized, scrutinized and treated with utmost skepticism. A practice in and of itself that makes the Core (and the College) appear ugly and undistinguished. Yet it is only through critique, and not through one-sided inquiry that we may arrive at a more informed thought. A Sisyphean action, perhaps, but one that is required for Columbia to be the place of learning that the whole world round respects. This includes questioning even well-reasoned arguments.
I do not doubt the logic inherit within his claims: the College will continue to lack meaning unless its administrative head is given meaning. Moreover, unlike peers at Harvard and Yale, the College lacks the synonymity in which the College speaks for the University - much as we have learned by the childish actions of some in recent days. Without this synonymity, the College does not appear central in the imaginations of students. The College's very meaning derives from its autonomy and its history. The question I have often confronted - perhaps as an individual in my own graduate studies attempting to resurrect lessons from post-modern cultural studies with a kind of neo-structural meaning - what are the realities of our current moment and can a university operate as usual. Can the College be autonomous and everything be alright?As I look pessimistically at my own prospects of future academic work, I see the answer far less comforting than merely adhering to a College first attitude. We may, as some have and I ascribe, rewrite the glory of Columbia as the glory of a diverse, multitudinous community of scholars, thinkers, families, workers and passersby. Where the Core is the foundation, and unquestionably a crucial aspect of life, but it is merely the gateway to the true splendor of Columbia. Columbia as a University: a collection of experiences, research and innovation that occurs inside and outside campus. It is therefore a series of pods where individuals are contained, but whose semi-permeable nature allows the individual to explore the university to its fullest extent.Not only is this argument viable, but when made it forces us to re-decipher Judge Cabranes's words, Dean Alonso's words and what we might find necessary and viable for our university. The power of the historical imagination, in the words of Collingsworth, is that we might re-enter past times, but always aware of our present reflection. As a student of this century, I approach the problem with a different framing and one I share  with the hope to continuously breathe new perspectives into this important debate.Nevertheless, though solutions to the problem often differ, common goals can seem quite similar. The end goal should remain clear in everyone's eyes: that students that graduate from Columbia should be as brilliant, innovative and daring as those that have come before. That we gain from Columbia an ardent belief in the value of learning - in traditions and trends - and that we continue to question ourselves as we find it necessary, where appropriate, to question others. That younger generations of students are unafraid in this critical moment to make sure that we steer the university as much as those with longer ties. If that framework can exist in a leaner, fitter university, why not value this as an option worth consideration.Keith E. Hernandez CC '07

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Anonymous posted on

"Of course, a curriculum grounded in the idea of a common culture rooted in the Western tradition is now an endangered species, subject to the pressures of trendy cultural relativism even at Columbia."

Yes, it is a trend among modern thinkers and students of scientific history. It is a reaction among those of us who don't see the value of mythology. It is reaction to the absurdity of teaching modern people about Odysseus. Columbians know about him - they spent significant $$$ to know that he escaped from the Cyclops by dressing as a sheep. In no way is that education - it is a rip-off by uneducated people loath to abandon their myths.

Read "Black Athena" by Martin Bernal (Cornell!) to see what the trend is outside of Columbia.

Beware the Sirens!

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Anonymous posted on

Joe Brown - you are a product of the nihilistic 60s. Your experience, I am sorry to say, represent an "aberration", not the "norm", from the course of history. Judge Cabranes is right. You are not.

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Anonymous posted on

My problem is - really - that I read books! You know, by people such as Stephen Jay Gould, Jan Assman, etc. They are just filling my head with crazy ideas!

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you Judge Cabranes for trying to protect our college!

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Anonymous posted on

I have admired Judge Cabranes for many years. As acting editor of Columbia College Today, I was pleased to run a verbatim portion of his decision in United States v. Thomas, wherein he eloquently and trenchantly rejected the idea of "jury nullification". His defense of the autonomy and history of the College, and his ability to see through the palaver that is so frequently ladled out by Low Library, is remarkable enough. Consider that he is a University Trustee, and that he chose a student forum like Spectator in which to make his case. His Honor represents the best ideals of the College. We need alumni like him more than ever.  

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Anonymous posted on

"mutual imbrication" & "no thonx"
In one essay! Excellent!

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Anonymous posted on

I appreciate and laud Judge Cabranes' thoughtful comments but while the threat to the Core seems to prompt the most heat from the commentators the article reaches a much deeper and pervasive problem which has been brewing for a very long time and that is the increasing marginalization of the College and its Alumni  within the University and the never ending attempts by the Central Administration to centralize and increase its powers over all the University's schools and functions. Insofar as the College and its Alumni are concerned this has manifested itself historically in the efforts to expand enrollment and class size, the effective abolition of the College's Alumni Association (and with the creation of CAA and the elimination of the Alumni Federation reducing the independence of all the individual Alumni organizations), centralizing the College Fund and development functions under UDAR, putting the College Dean under the control of the Executive Vice President of Arts and Sciences and attempting to marginalize or, for that matter eliminate, all independent Alumni Organizations (viz., the attack on the Nursing School's Old Alumni Association, The Columbia University Club Foundation, The Society of Columbia Graduates, etc.). Apparently, this all appears to be driven by the recent report of independent consultants retained by the Central Administration which, to my knowledge, has never been made public to the University Community. The irony is that when President Rupp first entered office he commissioned a strategic study (which was made public) which concluded that the College should be put at the center of the University (in that regard a comparison was made to our sister Schools in the Ivies, e.g., Harvard, Princeton and Yale). The problem which the Central Administration seems to be addressing is one that dates back to Nicholas Murray Butler when the University was modeled on the Heidelburg University model, i.e., a collection of graduate schools, principally in the sciences and professions, which are independently run, with undergraduate education as a poor stepchild. Over the years the Central Administration was forced to negotiate with Deans of the Schools when it came to budgetary matters because fund raising occurred principally at the School level and few gifts were totally unrestricted and left to the Central Administration to administer. The negotiation process was opaque to say the least and as I understand it involved playing one Dean's demands off another. To his credit George Rupp  revised the budgetary process to make it more transparent but one effect was to also centralized the process shifting power to the Central Administration. Now with the commitment to the North Campus and the recent economic downturn I fear that the pressures on the Central Administration to satisfy its edifice complex have been greatly increased and are being manifested in an ever greater thirst for funding. This can only be accomplished by greater centralization and harnassing all fund raising to accomplish this task. Concurrently, all higher education is bumping up against some resistance from its customers, i.e., parents and students, as year over year the costs of attendance seem to increase at a rate which is a multiple of the inflation rate. Of course a simple fix (apart from raising tuition) is to expand attendance, increase class size and adjust the curriculum to fit this model (i.e., the old joke about the garment industry, "we lose money on every dress we make but make it up in volume) and herewith the conflict with the Core which, as all us older Alumni remember and cherish, was characterized by small class sizes which brought us in contact with the greatest minds the University had to offer many of whom considered teaching Core Classes a privilege, intellectually stimulating and not a tedious obligation.  In short, in my view the issue comes down to money (isn't that always the case) and the question I pose to the Central Administration is whether it is willing to sacrifice the one thing that made the College unique among its peers upon the Mammon's altar.                            

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Anonymous posted on

When I was reading the article, I could not have imagined it was written by a judge, and a trustee at that! It was so beautifully written! I immediately looked at my bookshelf and found my copy of the Iliad, and thought how wonderful it is to have a trustee who actually cares about all the "little people" in the college. Love you Dean Valentini, but I think the college is in safer hands now (or so I hope).

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OTA1819 posted on

I think it's sad that alumni read the Spec as an accurate news source RE: Columbia.  For shame.

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Anonymous posted on

Well I would like to think that an article written by a Trustee and a Federal Appelate Judge at that can be something one can rely on.  

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OTA1819 posted on

Perhaps, but by virtue of the fact you knew about this piece would indicate that you are an avid reader of the Spec, which is not a reliable news source.  So I repeat, for shame.

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Anonymous posted on

The problem with the Core is that it doesn't convey practical skills, and you need those to get a job.  Cabranes and fellow alumni can extol the alleged virtues of a liberal arts educatoin all they want, but it's a fact that it just doesn't equip people to function in the modern world where knowing things that provide value actuallyis important.

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Anonymous posted on

Bravo! Some common sense :) Science Rules!

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Anonymous posted on

 You may then go to SEAS instead of CC.

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Anonymous posted on

practical skills are more than just engineering. it's incredibly sad that one can spend more than 1/3rd of their college time taking core courses without taking a single mandatory course in economics. the core is out-dated and the old white men alumni may moan and screech all they want, unless the Core willingly adjusts itself to current needs, our economic times will itself adjust it and it won't be in the way they want.

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Anonymous posted on

 The Core is designed to provide general culture, while you can have the rest of the time to learn working skills. This general culture is characteristic of CC graduates, and is part of what you expect from its curriculum. It's understandable some people may feel like they don't need it. There are other alternatives for them. Even in the case of SEAS, you may complement engineering with humanities subjects. Regarding your concern, many SEAS students take economy. I know you'd like some subjects to be compulsory, but since four years with four months terms leave little space for someone to learn everything, the present flexibility is definitely more appropriate.

Then there's the question on whether the present Core curriculum really provides a general culture in the modern sense, but that's another story.

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Anonymous posted on

The Core fails at its ability to provide 'general culture', whatever that may mean. SEAS students are required to take Principles of Economics before graduating, even if it may have nothing to do with their major. SEAS recognizes that to walk into the modern world today without any idea of how our economic system works is a disaster. In CC, students can skate through without taking any economics, statistics, calculus, or even a full major (CC allows its students to graduate with just a concentration). Don't get me wrong, there is a lot wrong with the SEAS education too (it over burdens students by having them take required courses above and beyond what they need for an undergraduate education, thereby limiting their ability to do anything else), but it still requires them to take half the Core and other humanities electives. CC does not require students to take an intro level course in economics, or statistics. It, on the other hand, overburdens its students by extending the Core beyond what they need. A semester of lit-hum and CC should be more than enough, and frontier of science is just a plain joke.

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Anonymous posted on

I've just found a link that may be useful for the "teaching and research" discussion. They have released the Time Higher Education (THE) world university ranking for 201-2012: http://www.timeshighereducatio... , where Columbia is ranked 12, but that's beside the point. If you fo the "Columbia University" link, you'll find that its "teaching score" (87.5) is slightly higher than its "research score" (81.8). Granted, it would be important to find out how they reached these numbers...

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Anonymous posted on

This article raises many different issues. Inside Higher Education has done a good job covering the "what should be the role of trustees" angle.  

In terms of cultural relativism vs. "Western Civ": It is especially painful to see a civil war breaking out over this, since Columbia can pride itself on being a distinguished contributor to an understanding of both; it is, after all, not only a place for the Core, but the birthplace of academic anthropology in the United States.  (To be sure, you might not learn that hanging out with the current Department of Anthropology at Columbia, and the charge of "trendy postmodernism" is not entirely off-base.)  

It is also the case that no "civilization", including the "Western one" is an island entire unto itself, nor - insofar as one is speaking about "high" civilizations - is a person well educated if she or he is well schooled in Plato, but ignorant of, for example, Confucius.  The university is a place for cosmopolitans, not cultural parochials.  

And it is a place for studying "great books" in their true historical and cultural context, so that we don't delude ourselves about what they mean, simply tailoring - and distorting - them to fit our current ideological/political purposes.

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