A petition to establish a two-quarter Western Civilization requirement for undergraduates at Stanford University has sparked controversy across campus.
In the weeks since the editorial board of the Stanford Review, a student-run conservative-leaning newspaper on campus, created a petition to establish the requirement, supporters have been branded racists and other derogatory names and confronted in dining halls, according to the publication’s editor-in-chief.
The editors of the Review are petitioning to place an initiative on the spring undergraduate ballot calling for the new requirement. If the petition accumulates 350 signatures by Wednesday, the initiative will qualify for a vote before the undergraduate student body. Harry Elliott, editor-in-chief of the Review, said that the petition was created in order to address the “perpetual decline in Stanford’s humanities core,” which currently mandates only one humanities class over four years.
“We wanted a requirement that would equip students directly for life after Stanford, both politically and socially; but we also wanted to ensure that the requirement would not degenerate in an academic race to the bottom, as occurred with past requirements when they were overly open-ended,” Elliott told the Washington Free Beacon in an email.
“Thus, we decided to focus on a single civilizational requirement that gave students real depth and academic common ground to discuss the topics they were learning in dining halls and casual conversation.”
According to the text of the initiative, the course requirement would focus on educating students about the “unique role Western culture has had in shaping our political, economic, and social institutions” and would cover the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world. It would replace Stanford’s current one-quarter “Thinking Matters” undergraduate humanities requirement, which can be fulfilled with courses such as “Food Talks: The Language of Food” and “The Science of MythBusters,” according to the course catalog.
The petition, which is accessible only to Stanford students online, has accumulated approximately 230 signatures, Elliott said, and individuals have widely expressed support for establishing more humanities requirements in general. However, the Review staffers and students who have signed the petition have reported being confronted and called names by detractors.
“The Review’s staff have been called everything from ‘dusty’ to ‘racist’ to ‘b–ch’ to ‘pendejos’ to ‘disgusting,’” Elliott expanded in an editor’s note published Monday. “We have been repeatedly ‘invited’ to ‘wonderful events’ with ‘constructive dialogue.’ Unfortunately, Review members who have tried to attend such events have been refused entry at the door.”
Signatories to the petition, whose names can be publicly viewed by Stanford students per the school’s election policy, have also reported being targeted.
“Signers of the petition have reported being personally called out in dining halls and student group meetings, and have been systematically contacted to justify their signatures. They have also been publicly branded as supporters of ‘racism,’ ‘elitism,’ ‘classism’ and ‘hatred,’” Elliott wrote.
He also pointed to Facebook statuses posted by members of the activist community at Stanford, which show the individuals claiming that they have downloaded the list of signers in order to use it against them in the future.
Several opinion pieces published in the Stanford Daily, the mainstream campus publication, have slammed the proposal, one arguing that it “would necessitate that our education be centered on upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”
One commenter on the manifesto’s web page suggested that the school would be “force feed[ing] students with content that perpetuates the dominance of whiteness” by implementing the requirement. Another wrote sarcastically, “Let’s be ignorant white people.”
Not all the reaction to the petition has been negative, however. Elliott said that several faculty members, some of whom are quoted in the Review’s manifesto outlining the proposal, have expressed support of the Western Civilization requirement.
One of the professors quoted in the manifesto, Stanford Law professor Michael McConnell, told the Review that he has taught many students in recent years who had “little or no familiarity with the political, intellectual, and cultural history that shaped the American legal tradition.”
“I’ve encountered students who have never heard of Hobbes and Locke, do not know the causes of the American Revolution, are unfamiliar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, haven’t a clue about Progressivism or the New Deal, don’t know what separates Protestants and Catholics, and have only the vaguest sense what race relations were like before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One thing a great university provides is education about what educated people should learn,” McConnell is quoted as saying.
If the petition reaches the 350-signature mark, the initiative will be put up for a vote before the undergraduate Stanford student body in mid-April. If the ballot measure is approved, it will then proceed to the Faculty Senate, Stanford’s faculty governance, as a strong recommendation, Elliott said.
This is not the first time that controversy has swirled at the university surrounding such requirements. Stanford previously had a Western Civilization history requirement, but it was dropped in the 1969 amid protests from students and faculty.