Publication Date

September 1, 1992

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

Daniel Gordon's defense of Stanford University's replacement of the Western Culture Program (WCP) with a program called Cultures, Ideas, and Values (CIV) rests on the Burkean argument that only those with direct experience of an institution are qualified to criticize it. But since CIV itself arose out of criticism of WCP, then we need more attention to the latter (in which I participated) and to the process by which it was replaced than Gordon has given it.

First and most generally, Gordon's admirable appeal to sympathetic understanding in the curricular debate is inconsistent with the disposition of those who brought CIV into existence. Their view of the traditional authors read in WCP, far from being sympathetically understanding, utilized the full array of modern suspicion or "critical theory" to denigrate those authors, reducing them to caricatured representatives of their sex, race, or ethnicity.

Second, although Gordon compares CIV favorably with the "Contemporary Civilization" sequence at his alma mater, Columbia University, for comprehensiveness, CIV is not nearly so comprehensive as WCP had been. Whereas the latter had attempted to provide the student with a rounded conception of Greek and Roman culture as well as medieval European culture, the presentism and politicization of the new program have created a situation in which it is no longer necessary for tracks fulfilling the CIV requirement to pay more than lip service to periods before 1400.

Finally, Gordon's definition of the proper "context" for the CIV-WCP debate is selective at best. He makes no mention of two new courses required of all Stanford students that were decided upon while he was there and have just been put into effect: a "gender studies" course, and one in "American ethnic and racial minorities." What these new mandates suggest is that CIV should be viewed as part of a larger attempt at Stanford to replace normal academic standards with a partisan socio-political agenda.

, Associate Professor
Canisius College

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