Phi Beta Cons

Stanford Students Furious at Idea of Studying Western Civilization

As crazy as it sounds, the notion of requiring students to take two courses in Western civilization to earn a diploma is so controversial at Stanford University that a recently launched student petition that calls for as much has propelled the school into a heated debate.

The usual complaints, mostly in the mainstream campus newspaper and social media posts, have been bandied about: racist, white supremacist, Euro-centric, oppressive. Supporters have also been subjected to name-calling in online comments, social media threads, and student email chains, The College Fix reports.

Yet “The Case for a Western Civilization Requirement at Stanford” has its backers. The student-led petition has about 200 signatures so far, and needs about 150 more to be put to a vote before the entire student body. If approved, the measure would be debated by faculty.

Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, wrote a column suggesting that the Western civilization requirement could bring the prestigious college out of the “Dark Ages.” 

But this is not a new debate at Stanford.

As a manifesto that accompanies the petition points out, Stanford once had a Western civilization requirement, but student and faculty protests during the 1960s saw it morphed into a Western culture requirement. Then in the 1980s, Stanford became ground-zero for the Western civ debate. 

“Five-hundred Stanford students marched alongside Reverend Jesse Jackson chanting ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go.’ the New York Times and countless other publications covered the controversy; Newsweek published a widely-read report called ‘Say Goodnight Socrates,’” the manifesto states. “Even the White House involved itself. President Reagan’s Secretary of Education William Bennett debated Stanford’s President Donald Kennedy on live television, sharply criticizing efforts to ditch the core list. Nevertheless, the movement proved successful – Stanford abandoned Western Culture.”

If history is doomed to repeat itself is anyone’s guess.

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