The Western Civilization course requirement has been a Kansas University tradition for generations.
As with all traditions, some people liked it and some people hated it. And, like many traditions, it appears — like it or not — that this one is coming to an end.
Leaders in the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences say they won’t get rid of the two-semester introductory courses to Western Civilization, but they likely will make those courses just part of a range of electives for students rather than a requirement for all students earning a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Eliminating the Western Civilization requirement in LAS and some other schools would add more flexibility for students and perhaps allow them to concentrate more quickly on their major or minor fields of study. These days, said LAS Dean Danny Anderson, students often spend over half of their graduation hours on general education requirements when they would rather be concentrating on their areas of specialization and, perhaps, increasing their chance in the job market.
Jumping into the major and minor fields is fine, but to make that leap too quickly undermines the nature of a liberal education, which should expose students to the great ideas of history and give them an opportunity to struggle with some of those ideas and how they apply or don’t apply in today’s world. Considering the views of Marx, Plato or Locke stimulates students’ critical reasoning skills. The process of sorting through those views in the small discussion classes that are part of the Western Civilization program helps teach social responsibility and problem solving.
Not everything in a university degree should be optional. All students need to have some basic knowledge of math, for instance. Isn’t a basic knowledge of the world’s great thinkers just as important?
Perhaps KU will come up with a valid way to fill this need outside the traditional two-course Western Civilization sequence, but officials should make sure this facet of a university education isn’t lost to future generations.