- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

A majority of Western civilization core classes at the University of Chicago will be replaced this fall with European civilization courses a move that will remove an introduction to early Christianity and late antiquity from the classroom.

The move has drawn criticism from students, alumni and some history professors, who say the revised courses will begin with the Middle Ages and end with the aftermath of World War II, and will not represent ancient Greece and Rome.

They argue that the Western civilization courses are a 60-year legacy at the university, and have been among the most popular classes at the university since the 1950s.

"Taking the Western civilization classes away, there will be no coherent course left that teaches students about our traditions," said Sara Butler, a second-year student who is circulating a petition to keep the courses. Miss Butler has collected 200 signatures over the past two days.

"These courses really give students a very solid understanding of their world and how it came to exist," she said.

Katy O'Brien Weintraub, a lecturer in the university's Social Science Collegiate Division who will teach one of the remaining courses next year, agrees.

"The study of civilization is the study of the way of life and the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the groups of people shaped by it," Mrs. Weintraub said. "Western civilization is the civilization in which we live. I think there will always be a need for college students to learn about their own tradition."

University of Chicago is the latest college nationwide to change its Western civilization course curriculum. Other universities such as Stanford dropped Western civilization courses soon after students began protesting the classes.

The decision to eliminate the majority of Western civilization courses came from history professors, who cited declining enrollment in the classes.

The university now offers 10 sections of the history of Western civilization, which is offered over three quarters.

Under the new plan, only two sections of the three-quarter class will be offered and 11 sections of two-quarter European civilization courses will be offered at the same time. The third quarter will be special courses in intensified study of a subject that has been covered in the civilization course, said Rachel Fulton, chairman of the university's Western civilization department.

This way, students will have a wider choice of civilization classes over three quarters, Ms. Fulton said.

Critics say the changes have been made by "politically correct" professors who believe Western civilization has been socially oppressive.

"It's this idea that Western civilization is responsible for much of what's wrong with the world today," said Glenn Ricketts, a University of Chicago alumnus who works for the National Association of Scholars in New Jersey. "Sure, Western civilization was oppressive at times, but other civilizations didn't produce a bill of rights or a constitution. That's why Western civilization should be taught."

Ms. Fulton said the initiative to create a two-quarter variation of Western civilization has been in the works for several years. The European civilization courses were an outgrowth of curriculum reform passed by faculty members in 1998.

Ms. Fulton also said the University of Chicago is not the type of school that gives into "political correctness."

"I, for one, am deeply committed to teaching about Christianity and I do not find Christianity to be oppressive," Ms. Fulton said. "I find teaching it liberating and deeply significant to Western civilization. Simply, [the critics] are describing a faculty that's not us."

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