The Role of CIV

Scholars debate anew the role of Cultures, Ideas and Values

By Diane Manuel

Last fall it was hailed in the Daily as Stanford’s defining liberal arts experience. In winter quarter, a student columnist wrote, “To be blunt, the teaching sucked.”

A number of professors also crossed verbal swords, with charges and angry denunciations slicing across the usually tranquil Main Quad.

By most counts, it has been a rough year for the program in Cultures, Ideas and Values, or CIV. The object of a Faculty Senate mandated review, CIV appears destined for considerable reshaping at the end of spring quarter and a new, no-nonsense name ­ Introduction to the Humanities. But even as the rhetoric revs up, it is clear that a required, year-long program in cultural literacy and humanistic inquiry ­ whatever form it takes ­ is here to stay.

The CIV saga dates from the post-World War I decades, as America sought to secure a link across the Atlantic with European history and culture. History of Western Civilization was mounted by the history department in 1935, and for the next 34 years undergraduates studied the development of European thought from classical origins to modern times.

In the politically turbulent late 1960s and ’70s, however, History of Western Civilization was abandoned while faculty conducted a searching Study of Education at Stanford. The result was a new program called Western Culture. Piloted for two years and introduced in 1980, it was seen by many as Stanford’s response to the back-to-basics movement. Built on 15 required books and 18 strongly recommended texts, it included a collection of masterpieces of literature and philosophy. The “core list” of titles, which had to be available in English and in paperback, were widely acknowledged as monuments of Western thought.

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