Phi Beta Cons

Western Civilization, Voted Down at Stanford

Earlier this year, the Stanford Review, a conservative student paper at Stanford, proposed that the school require a course in Western civilization.

As some readers may know, in the 1980s, Stanford was in the forefront of the (successful) move to eliminate Western civilization courses, with activist Jesse Jackson leading the famous chant, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Western Culture’s Got to Go.”

This spring, students had a chance to vote on requiring a two-quarter course in Western civilization. This wasn’t an administration initiative; students had collected 370 signatures to put it on the ballot in the student election.

The initiative lost, by 1992 votes to 342. To keep this in perspective, total undergraduate population at Stanford is 6994—nevertheless, the initiative lost, and it lost big.

One of the supporters of the initiative was Miguel Samano, who wrote an anonymous piece supporting the initiative—describing himself as a “low-income student of color.” When he was suspected of being the author, he was dropped from the Stanford First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP). Then he revealed his identity.

Samano is part of a remnant of Stanford’s Western culture programs – a year-long program in the humanities called Structured Liberal Education. He argued that it is “crucial that marginalized students be willing to interrogate Western thinkers. Avoiding critical thought is shirking responsibility for oneself and one’s own politics. I cannot imagine trying to sidestep this critical inquiry.”

But lots of the nation’s top students want to, and can.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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