It's registration week, and we've all spent the last few days scouring the directory, bulletin, and department websites for next semester's classes. With registration comes the inevitable scramble to find courses to fulfill requirements, particularly—for Columbia College students—the Global Core. There has been a great deal of time dedicated to discussion about Frontiers of Science recently, yet there has been little to no talk of the flaws of the Global Core. Here, we hope to address where the Global Core has failed in its objectives and how it can be fixed.
The Global Core was designed to address the Core's historic bias toward western civilization by requiring students to "examine areas not the primary focus of Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization." In its current form as a distribution requirement, the Global Core feels like an afterthought to the Core. Distribution requirements are explicitly what the Core is not. Distribution requirements are the attempt by most institutions to have students learn something beyond their major. The Core's approach is different: There is a specific body of ideas and approach to knowledge that everyone should learn by participating in it.
But the Global Core fails to abide by this standard, and we are instead asked to pick and choose from a list of approved courses that includes "Salsa, soca, and reggae" (a class of 300) alongside "Postcolonial narrative and the limits of the human" (a class of 14). The Global Core is a disparate collection of relatively unrelated courses, and it shows. The standard a course must meet to fulfill the Global Core is exceedingly broad: It simply has to focus on non-Western civilization(s) and use some primary materials to follow development over time or answer larger themes.
The Global Core not only lacks self-consistency within its courses, but it also fails to integrate with the rest of the Core. While the Global Core remains a distributional requirement varied in its topic and methodology, there can be no direct larger intellectual connection between it and other Core classes like Lit Hum or CC. Certain professors may manage to address the questions we wrestle with in other Core classes, but there is no real uniformity to the Global Core. As Professor William Theodore de Bary has said, the Global Core in its current form simply "doesn't bring people together on 'core' issues," and that students' education "is aborted after they take Lit Hum and CC."
However, the Global Core is salvageable, and it has the potential to become a cornerstone of the Core. One possibility is to create small seminars and focus exclusively on major texts, to foster the kinds of discussion and critical analysis that make Lit Hum and CC successful. This could be done by expanding the pre-existing "Major Texts" classes, such as Major Texts of East Asia and Major Texts of Middle East and South Asia. Students could potentially choose one course from a list of seminars focused on the primary texts of a region. A narrower requirement in this form would be more contained.
This is only one suggestion. To explore all of the possibilities, we ask the Educational Policy and Planning Committee to re-evaluate the Global Core, similar to this past year's review of Frontiers of Science. The Global Core will need to move in a different direction, toward a coherent, uniform curriculum with seminar courses focused on primary texts, if it wants to fulfill its educational objectives and truly become part of the Core. There are, of course, obstacles in the form of logistics and funding. Many of these ideas have been expressed before but have failed to come to fruition.
However, if we are truly committed to looking beyond western civilization and broadening the scope of the Core, we should be committed to making the Global Core an integral part of our academic experience.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.