Humanities core implemented

Oct. 25, 2016, 12:07 a.m.

Following their campaign last year for a mandatory Western Civilization curricular requirement, a representative from The Stanford Review calls the newly-introduced humanities core “a victory for The Stanford Review and for what [they] stand for.” The optional core currently only includes a European “Great Books, Big Ideas” track but is set to be expanded to other non-Western cultures by next year.

The campaign, first introduced by The Review in February in an editorial entitled “The Case for a Western Civilization Requirement at Stanford” and an accompanying petition, proposed the replacement of the Thinking Matters program with “a two-quarter Western Civilization requirement… covering the politics, history, philosophy and culture of the Western world.”

The campaign was met with criticism by many students and student groups on campus, with Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) media representative Colin Kimzey ’17 calling the proposal “pretty much everything [WTU is] against” and others labeling the explicit focus on Western civilization as Eurocentric.

A counter-petition by Stanford for Humanities was subsequently launched calling for “a foundational humanities experience… that encompasses both Western and non-Western” civilizations. The original Review petition ultimately received only 14.65 percent  of the vote in the 2016 ASSU elections, failing to pass.

On May 9th, a Daily op-ed by Debra Satz, the Marta Sutton Weeks professor of ethics in society, and Dan Edelstein, a French professor, announced a new optional humanities core intended to provide guidance for students interested in the field but unsure of where to start.

Central to the new core was a set of “Great Books, Big Ideas” tracks wherein students would spend three quarters immersed in the “literary, cultural, and philosophical traditions” of a given culture or group of cultures.

The op-ed “recognize[d] that the study of no single cultural tradition can be required of all students” and thus incorporated Traditions tracks for not just Europe but also “East Asia, Africa and Its Diaspora, and PATH (Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew cultures).” The Europe track, in many ways reminiscent of the Western Civilization core called for by The Review, is available now; the other three non-Western tracks are set to be introduced next year.

Content aside, there are notable differences between the Western Civilization core envisioned by The Stanford Review and the humanities Traditions tracks that were actually implemented. The humanities core is not mandatory, did not replace Thinking Matters and, by next year, will not be exclusive to the West.

Edelstein has previously referred to the parallels between the two as both “coincidental and useful” but criticized the Review’s proposal for its exclusive focus on Europe. The humanities core introduced by Satz and Edelstein is more in line with the aims of the Stanford for Humanities counter-petition in that it focuses on the value of humanities curricula but is not tied to one specific region — or at least will not be after its first year.

Even so, Elliot Kaufman ’18, managing editor of The Stanford Review and news editor at the time of the “Western Civilization” article’s publication, considers it a victory for The Review and expressed great excitement about the addition.

“We couldn’t get all of what we wanted — it’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary — [but] at the end of the day that’s a decent compromise,” Kaufman said. “The students who want that sort of liberal education can get it.”

Kaufman, who is also a student in the first quarter of the Europe Traditions track, described The Review’s campaign as having “shifted the center of campus politics on this issue”, and reasserted that he “tend[s] to think [Western Civilization core is] something that is necessary for everyone… it’s there for the people who recognize its value.”

WTU, the coalition that expressed strong disagreement with the original Review campaign, wrote in an email to the Daily that it “does not have an official position on the new humanities core.”

The Stanford Review, meanwhile, has no immediate plans to revive debate on their preliminary proposal, though Kaufman says that they “certainly haven’t backed off of [the original] position.”


Contact Brian Contreras at brianc42 ‘at’

Brian Contreras was the Daily's Investigations Editor during the '19-'20 school year. Before that, he was a Managing Editor of the news section. A graduate of Stanford's class of 2020, he studied Science, Technology, and Society with a minor in Anthropology. Brian hails from Washington, DC and is pursuing a career in tech journalism. Contact him at briancontreras42 'at'

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