RALEIGH — The study of Western Civilization used to be a rite of passage for the university-educated. Now it is an afterthought at best, consigned to the shadows of the curriculum as universities pursue trendy multiculturalism. And the reaction to a proposal to bring Western Civ back shows just how feared the liberating study is by the campus radicals.
In North Carolina, barely more than a third (36 percent) of the 11 University of North Carolina schools surveyed still require a course in Western history or Western civilization. That’s according to “How Solid is the Core?: A Study of General Education Requirements at 11 North Carolina Institutions,” a study released this fall by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. But about two-thirds (64 percent) “require a multicultural or cultural diversity course.” The study declared this finding “at best a sign of interest in non-Western cultures, but all too often an exercise in politically correct ‘education.'”
Furthermore, “[n]ot one institution requires all undergraduates to take a course in United States history.”
It’s a deficit the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill is seeking to address. The College is working on a proposal to bring a Western Civilization program to UNC-CH, and it has approached the John William Pope Foundation for financial support.
The subsequent outcry that greeted news of this proposal was so vehement, and so vicious, that one would think the College had proposed replacing the Old Well with a statue of George W. Bush. The campus leftists quickly ramped up a smear campaign against the donors approached by the College.
The Triangle’s leftist tabloid The Independent made it a cover story in October, warning that the Pope Foundation “has an agenda that’s antithetical to the principles of academic freedom and cultural diversity” and insinuating that the university’s proposal would be tainted by association. The campus leftist listserv called for a protest, demanding in bold-faced type “Should UNC-CH Accept $12 Million from Racist, Sexist, Classist, Homophobic Donors?”
UNC-CH’s Graduate and Professional Student Federation joined the fray, passing a resolution against the university taking a grant from the Pope Foundation. The resolution cited work by the Pope Center for Higher Education — a think tank founded with seed money and support from the Pope Foundation — as “work[ing] to create a hostile climate to academic freedom for instructors.”
Regardless of the personal attacks and fearmongering, the fact of the matter is that no one knows the details of the program being proposed yet. Not even Art Pope, president of the Pope Foundation, who at the time of this writing didn’t know for sure what form it would take. He said the proposal is the college’s to make, and that he just has a general idea about it. He does not yet know about whether what’s proposed will be for an Area Studies approach or that of an interdisciplinary degree, and he was looking forward to finding out what it would entail by way of additional honors courses, research and study-abroad fellowships, lecture series, and graduate seminars.
As for the attacks against his foundation over concerns about academic freedom, Pope reiterated that he was respecting academic freedom by letting the College prepare and submit a proposal to his foundation for graduate and especially undergraduate education in Western Civilization.
He asked, “How much more respect for academic freedom can there be when the university comes up with the proposal?”
Bernadette Gray-Little, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, tried to explain to the Independent that the proposal was benign. “This is an opportunity to do something that would enrich the undergraduate curriculum,” she said. “The proposal is neither conservative nor liberal. Our interest in this is not political.”
To the campus leftists, however, the proposal signaled danger to “academic independence here at UNC” because “Western Civilization” was “history dealing solely with the disenfranchised plight of rich, white, Protestant men.”
Students accustomed to the blight of area and interest studies perhaps are excused in expecting a new track of study to be geared to address someone’s race, religion, income level, sexual preference, or some other neo-Marxist topic to divide society and create unrest.
But the study of Western Civilization is the study of liberty. Put in campus buzzwords, it is indeed the study of the seedbed of diversity and tolerance of differences, the struggle with and victory over religious tyranny, racial division, class division, and so forth. It is the study of how ideas and the respect for individual liberty and God-given human rights either brought about or created an environment that fosters true diversity and toleration.
Western Civilization teaches the competition of philosophies and their consequences, good and ill. It shows throughout history the folly of well-intended tyranny. It is full of examples of flowering growth in liberty’s wake, growth not only of the intangible political liberty, but also of tangible liberators of time, hardship and inconvenience — in which the manifold combinations of drive and mind made possible by greater freedom to live, have ownership, disseminate ideas, and seek self-fulfillment manifest themselves to produce.
It can be no wonder, then, that Chapel Hill’s cells of aspiring statists want to shout down this proposal now, and fast.
Jon Sanders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a policy analyst for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh.