The Teagle Foundation has awarded Columbia, along with Yale University and the University of Chicago, a $280,000 grant for a three-year collaborative research project to strengthen the three institutions’ core text-based programs and engage others in similar work. Though Columbia, Yale and The University of Chicago represent the three oldest and most prominent core curriculum programs in the country, this project marks the first time that the three schools are collectively discussing their programs.
Spearheaded by Roosevelt Montas CC ’95, GSAS ’04, director of the Center for the Core Curriculum and associate dean of academic affairs, the project, titled “Core Curricula in the Research University: Challenges and Prospects,” is focused on studying the significance, impact and role of core curriculum programs housed within research universities. The project will involve four main goals: meetings between representatives of the three schools once a semester; an assessment project on the ways in which students of core curricula have been influenced by their studies, as seen through their lives and careers; a two-week faculty training institute for professors from across the United States and around the world, to be held each summer; and a culminating procedural report directed to the public that will address questions about the value of a core curriculum.
Columbia, Yale and the University of Chicago’s core curricula all feature three common concepts: small classes, a focus on primary texts and an interdisciplinary experience, according to Montas. While Columbia’s Core involves a common set of courses required of all undergraduates — with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time — the University of Chicago has different themes for Core courses that students can choose. At Yale, 10 percent of the freshman class participates in Directed Studies, a selective program that consists of courses in literature, philosophy and historical and political thought.
Montas, himself a product of Columbia’s Core Curriculum, hopes that this project will “clarify and support the Core Curriculum’s place in the research university” while further investigating the “role of that type of education in contemporary society, where we are more and more driven towards practical education.”
Columbia’s Core Curriculum is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and is considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. The communal learning — with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time — and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core. Begun in the early part of the 20th century, the Core Curriculum is one of the founding experiments in liberal higher education in the United States and it remains vibrant as it enters its tenth decade. Not only academically rigorous but also personally transformative for students, the Core seminar thrives on oral debate of the most difficult questions about human experience. What does it mean, and what has it meant to be an individual? What does it mean, and what has it meant to be part of a community? How is human experience relayed and how is meaning made in music and art? What do we think is, and what have we thought to be worth knowing? By what rules should we be governed? The habits of mind developed in the Core cultivate a critical and creative intellectual capacity that students employ long after college, in the pursuit and the fulfillment of meaningful lives.
The Teagle Foundation was established in 1944 by Walter C. Teagle (1878-1962), longtime President and later Chairman of the Board of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), now Exxon Mobil Corporation. It has a broad mandate “to advance the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world” and over the years the Foundation has made grants in many areas, always, however, with an emphasis on the aid Mr. Teagle envisioned for “institutions of higher learning and research.”