Columbia Adds Multiculturalism to Core Curriculum

the poison of identity politics

Columbia University has decided to add a contemporary multicultural component to its famed core curriculum, reported.

You knew it was coming. The Western Civilization orientation in general education coursework has been utterly routed for a long time now. The few remaining cases, such as Columbia’s, won’t endure because the academic left won’t let them. It’s not enough for multiculturalists and identity politicians to dominate the curriculum. They want every inch of it for themselves. Forget the talk of diversity and pluralism. Any conservative, liberal, or libertarian who believes that leftist promise is a chump.

Indeed, it is remarkable that the multiculturalists even bother to talk this way. They’ve won—no, they have conquered, trounced, and humiliated the traditionalists who stood in their path as they “diversified” the coursework and syllabi. But they keep mouthing the same phony justifications.

Here’s how a Columbia professor explained the revision to Inside Higher Ed reporter Colleen Flaherty — that people at Columbia had “important conversations” last year about the core that pondered the “question of whether it perpetuates certain forms of exclusion. In other words, she gave the reporter one of the mindless clichés of the left. The person who uttered it is a chaired professor, but it sounds more like a bureaucrat answered a tough query in a meeting.

[Teaching That America Is Hopelessly Racist]

She says that the contemporary works chosen for the core will be ones that “engage directly with the material already on the syllabus but also engage with urgent contemporary issues facing our society.” Again, more bureaucratese, more twaddle. And note the new criterion of immediate relevance to pressing social issues.

And then we have this, the wholly predictable turn toward critical thinking about canon formation. The insertion of contemporary literature is “one of a number of initiatives intended to encourage students to think critically about how canons are constructed, and about how and why contemporary authors — including those whose identities have traditionally been marginalized within the so-called Western canon — continue to engage with the works of that canon in ways that speak to its enduring importance and also to the need for its constant transformation.

Can you imagine being 19 years old hoping to hear about Aeneas and Hamlet and Elizabeth Bennet, and instead you have to hear a teacher “interrogate” this inclusion of some authors and exclusion of others? How uninspiring that would be, and how smug, too (as in that sneering insertion “so-called”). This idiom of identities, exclusion, and marginalization isn’t just hack speech. It’s enervating. We’ve been hearing it for 50 years, and the revisionists keep mouthing the same old thing. They can’t just add contemporary works by people of color and let those works and authors stand on their own. They have to legitimate them over and over and over.

Perhaps, that’s because they know they must. For, those works can’t stand on their own, nor can the authors, at least not the one selected this year by Columbia, Suzan-Lori Parks, whose corpus includes the 2000 stage play, Fucking A, about an abortionist. (The play works off of The Scarlet Letter—Columbia has chosen another play, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, from 2014.)

[Intimidation-Produced Silence at Stanford]

To gauge the quality of Ms. Parks’s thought, take a look at the commencement speech she delivered at Mount Holyoke College in 2001. Here is some of the advice she gave to the graduates:

  • THINK for yrself, LISTEN to yr heart, TUNE IN to yr gut.

  • PRACTICE PATIENCE. Whether you sit around like I do, working for that perfect word, or yr working toward a dream job, or wishing for a dreamy sweetheart. Things will come to you when yr ready to handle them not before. Just keep walking yr road.

  • And relish the fact that the road of yr life will probably be a windy road. Something like the yellow brick road in the WIZARD OF OZ. You see the glory of OZ up ahead but there are lots of twists and turns along the way lots of tin men, lots of green women.

  • For every work of literature you read, spend at least 30min in the mall, or in a mall equivalent such as Wal-Mart. This is cross-fertilization a now-age form of crop rotation a way to cross train yr spirit and keep interested in everything and not get too stuck in yr ways.

Now, that may not be so bad as a commencement speech, especially as her remarks were brief. But it sounds more like self-help Oprah-style than words of wisdom from a writer who will go down in history. To merit inclusion on the core syllabus at Columbia, one has to stand alongside Dante and Dostoevsky. Parks can’t, which is why the shift to canon-formation discussion is necessary.

It’s not going to stop. Columbia tells Inside Higher Ed that texts in the future will be chosen through faculty and student input. Does anybody expect those groups not to ask for more contemporary literature by authors of color in the coming years? Or, if one person urges it, will anyone in the room object? Definitely not. I’ve seen sensible academic liberals who now better bow before a zealous multiculturalist too many times to expect any of them to rise up and say, “No.”

I expect Columbia’s core curriculum not to exist in 20 years.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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4 thoughts on “Columbia Adds Multiculturalism to Core Curriculum

  1. I read this as the Brave New People’s Republic of Taxachusetts is considering retroactive changes to birth certificates.

    “Non-gender/non-binary” designations on driver’s licenses and marriage certificates are one thing, but Massachusetts will soon be going back and retroactively altering historical documents to make them comply with current sensibilities. And the same thing has happened to the curriculum.

    In his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell wrote that “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.”

    That’s what this really is all about, controlling the future by controlling the past –that’s why they *need* (not just want) every inch of the curriculum.

    We need to understand this and we need to call them on it. We need to defend Western Civilization and if that means the end of the academy as it exists today, so be it. Title IX shows that the government can mandate significant changes to higher education, and at this point I don’t have a problem with a conservative majority mandating changes to the curriculum as well.

    It can’t be any worse than what we have now — faculty self-governance clearly isn’t working. And why should a center-right country continue to subsidize this leftist indoctrination?

  2. Have to wonder, if the leftists are so terrible, and I think they are, why do they keep winning? Why are the rest so weak?

    When will the best students start shunning places like Columbia?

    1. The best students will start shunning Columbia when the best employers start shunning Columbia grads.

      What needs to be remembered is that 99% of the students are there for the credential and the career. Increasingly it is like Basic Training in the military — something one endures so as to be able to go do what one wants to do. So if one has to recite that the Earth is flat and the Moon made of blue cheese, one does so.

      The end result of this is a generation that concurrently believes in everything and nothing — doesn’t this explain the Millenials?

      And as to why the Left keeps winning, they are very good subversives, and they’ve been at it for 50 years — recruiting, nurturing, and promoting their own while sabotaging the careers of the heretics who disagree with them. We’re now into the third generation of leftist professors, with all other views having been twice screened out.

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