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Recivilizing SUNY

from the magazine

Recivilizing SUNY

Winter 1999
Education
New York

In December, the State University of New York's trustees did something shocking: they voted to approve a required core curriculum. The new curriculum, which will kick in two years from now, requires the 150,000 students in the university's four-year schools to take core courses in American history, foreign languages, math, natural science, Western Civ, and other subjects.


Anyone familiar with today's higher education knows that undergraduate instruction is a haphazard affair, with few requirements for broad survey courses in basic subjects like literature, history, and science. Where requirements do exist, students often can fill them with fluff like "The Global Leisure Experience" or "Magic and Witchcraft" or, even worse, with politicized nonsense. By contrast, SUNY's 30-credit core sets down a solid liberal arts foundation, in principle making the rest of a student's educational program sturdier by giving him a base to build on. Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Egan rightly declared that general education "prepares students for . . . economic success," furthers "their social and cultural advancement," and "lays a foundation for fulfilling and productive lives."


Yet so out of touch are many professors with the idea of general education that one SUNY Faculty Senate member mocked the new curriculum as "probably the best idea of 1955. This is just like going to high school." The professor's dripping sarcasm warns us about the potential limits of the SUNY reforms. The real culprits in the gutting of academic standards are the sixties-spawned faculty, wedded for decades now to radicalism and relativism. "How much of an improvement will we see," one skeptical prof asked, "with mandatory Western civilization courses taught from a wildly revisionist perspective?" But SUNY's trustees have at least made a start at restoring the university to sanity—no small achievement.

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