Jacques Barzun, CC ’27, Ph.D. ’32, a major 20th-century intellectual and former Columbia professor and provost who left an unparalleled mark on the University, died Thursday night at age 104.
Barzun, who had a major influence on the development of the Core Curriculum, died in San Antonio, where he lived, the New York Times reported.
Born in France in 1907 in a suburb of Paris, Barzun was sent to preparatory school in the United States at age 13 in the aftermath of World War I. He entered Columbia College at the age of 15.
As an undergraduate, Barzun was Spectator’s drama critic, reviewing the Varsity Show in 1927; editor of Varsity, the literary magazine; and president of the Philolexian Society. He was also his class valedictorian. He wrote lyrics for the 1928 Varsity Show, “Zuleika, or the Sultan Insulted.”
He taught his first class at Columbia, Contemporary Civilization, the summer after graduating from the college. He later served as a history professor and was well known for his humanities courses, teaching for almost 50 years.
In the 1930s, Barzun taught the first Colloquium on Important Books class, the precursor to Literature Humanities, with Lionel Trilling, and developed the Core Curriculum’s humanities focus.
Barzun served as dean of graduate faculties in the 1950s and then provost from 1958 to 1967. A European romanticist, Barzun obtained the rank of University Professor, the highest rank in the University, in 1967.
Barzun was an outspoken critic of American universities and objected to the politicization of the academy. He strongly condemned both student protesters and faculty during the 1968 student riots.
After retiring from the University in 1975, he remained an advocate for Columbia and the Core Curriculum throughout his life.
A devoted Dodgers fan who knew the team when it still played at Ebbets Field, Barzun once remarked, “Whoever wants to know the heart and soul of America had better learn baseball.” That quote is now inscribed on the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
He was awarded the Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, and was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award. He became a U.S. citizen in 1933.
In recent years, Barzun lived in San Antonio. He had three children, 10 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He is survived by his third wife, Marguerite Davenport.
In October 2007, a month before his 100th birthday, Barzun was presented with the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. At the event, Professor Emeritus of History Henry Graff called Barzun “the Babe Ruth of humanistic study and teaching.”
Barzun remained interested in Columbia until the end. In 2011, he wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal criticizing Columbia’s exclusion of ROTC and relating it to Pericles’ funeral oratory in Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War.”
“Do Columbia’s administrators and trustees believe that the students in the college should live by the values they are required to learn?” he wrote.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Barzun became a citizen of the United States at the age of 33. In fact, he became a citizen in 1933. Spectator regrets the error.