In late 2001 the UCSB GE Task Force solicited departmental responses to its June 2001 report, which included a "minority report" (link) supporting the continuation of a "Western Civilization" requirement. The history department discussed a resolution in support of that minority report. While the result of the vote (if one was taken) is not available, the following two e-mails to the chair of the GE Task Force were distributed to the membership in Feburary 2002.


e-mail from a history professor, Feb. 4, 2002:
While I view it as important that students gain an appreciation for the contributions of "Western" Civilization to our world today, I contend that European history needs to be seen in the world context.

As students are faced with an increasingly complex and globally integrated world, and as the student body itself is increasingly non-European in country of origin, for General Education to privilege European perspectives over world or global ones would be misguided. I think that students should learn about the virtues and vices of "Western Civilization", but they should also have something to compare it to. Furthermore, as we train our graduate students to become the next generation of scholars, many have expressed the desire to serve as teaching assistants for World History rather than Western Civilization, since many, many college and university teaching positions call for the broader perspective in introductory courses.

Thus on both the ideological and practical levels, I believe that the General Education Task Force's majority recommendation should be supported and implemented and the minority report rejected.

another history professor, Feb. 4, 2002:
That is, I am against having a Western Civilization requirement in the new GE curriculum.

Such a requirement would be a backward step for our GE curriculum. Under the old requirement, we have already opened up the Western Civilization category to count History 2ABC World History under that category. I have no problem with History 4ABC Western Civilization; it is a fine course taught by excellent professors, as its popularity attests. In my view, however, History 2ABC is a much superior course for General Education. It takes a world comparative approach that includes the European/North American tradition but compares it to such other traditions as those in China, India, the Islamic world, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas. To go back to a strictly European-centered course requirement would be a step backward to a more Eurocentric world view.

However, my opposition to re-instituting a Western Civilization requirement goes beyond specific courses. Not to put too fine a point on it, the notion that Western Civilization constitutes the central thread of human experience is ignorant, racist, and colonialist. Messrs. [x] and [x] write that "the historical perspective, conceptual sophistication, and reasoning skills that are necessary for thinking in an informed, critical, and creative way . . . indicates the need for a Western civilization requirement." That's a pretty racist assertion, and one that I am quite sure [x] and [x] would be unable to support in debate. There are intellectual traditions outside Europe and North America--most notably in China, India, and the Arab world, but elsewhere as well--that equal the West in historical perspective, conceptual sophistication, and reasoning skills. Plato is just not superior to Confucius, nor more important to world history or contemporary affairs.

[x] and [x] write that "Our students inevitably live and work within educational, economic, political, scientific, and technological systems that are shaped decisively by Western thought and culture." Of course. And nearly all the courses they take at university--in history, economics, literature, religion, political science, sociology, psychology, art history, and nearly every other discipline (even physics)--are primarily expressions of Western thought and culture. Our students inevitably get a whole lot of education about the West. What they do not get a lot of education about are the other cultures, histories, and value systems that also decisively shape their world.

To take just one example, think how different the current political and cultural relationship between the United States and Islamic peoples might be if the last two generations of American students had received a good introduction to Islamic thought. My guess is that several thousand people now dead might be alive today, and we might be in a very different international situation.

In the end, I am just not capable of standing in front of the UCSB student body--1/3 of whom have ancestors from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and all of whom will make their way in a world that is deeply entwined with values and cultures that are not European in origin-and saying, "What you really need to know about is White people." For that is what the Western Civilization requirement is all about, whether its supporters will admit it or not.

Our students recognize this; they are not stupid. Students of color (and a lot of White students as well) complain to me regularly about Western Civilization courses, however well taught they may be. They recognize that, even if the instructors in such courses are critical of many actions of Europeans or North Americans, the very act of framing a central course in General Education around the idea of the West is to give privilege to European derived peoples and their cultures. It is to say that Europeans' issues are the issues that really matter, and that other peoples' issues are peripheral That is an act of crypto-colonial, racist hegemony, and I am against it.


documents scanned by H. Marcuse, 11/15/03
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