Celebrating Core Stories

This academic year marks one of the most meaningful milestones in Columbia College’s history: the 100th anniversary of the Core Curriculum. It will be a year of celebration and reflection on the defining element of our Columbia experience — and on something that is uniquely ours as College alumni.

Beginning with the Centennial launch event on Friday, September 27, alumni and students will have the chance to participate in special programming, along with other opportunities to relive and celebrate their Core experience. I encourage you to join as many events as you can.

As part of the College’s commemoration, the Columbia College Alumni Association is asking alumni to share their “Core Stories” — reflections on and memories of their Core experience and the influence it has wielded in their lives. You can submit a Core Story (which can be as short as one sentence), read others’ accounts and learn more about the centennial on the Core Centennial website, core100.columbia.edu.

My own Core Story began in high school. For me, the Core and Columbia were one and the same, and it was what attracted me to attend. I had very little prior exposure to the Core texts, and intimately studying these great works seemed to me what the ideal undergraduate education should be. What I remember and cherish most were our passionate small-group discussions. I went to a large, Catholic high school, and it didn’t have many classes smaller than 30 or 40 students; unsurprisingly, most of our backgrounds and worldviews were similar.

Bookshelves showing the spine of many books

Behringer still has many of his Core books at home.

In the Core classroom, we learned to disagree without being disagreeable. The Core emphasized the value of listening to differing viewpoints and challenging personal assumptions to better understand the world around us. It was exhilarating, and I developed skills that have served me well in my professional and personal life. Some 30 years later, my Core textbooks still hold a prominent place on my bookshelves. Worn and tattered, they are a regular reminder that the lessons of the Core are indeed lifelong.

The Core is about more than what happens in the classroom. It’s a vital piece of the collective Columbia College Journey, pushing students outside their comfort zones, celebrating their curiosity, and allowing them to engage in discussions and tackle subjects that they might not have been exposed to anywhere else. The Core prepares College students for not only a life of engaged citizenship, but also a life of greater enjoyment.

As we reflect upon the Core’s 100 years, it’s also important that alumni look to the future. Operating the Core is no small feat. It requires substantial financial, intellectual and physical resources. Consider the following:

  • the Core comprises more than 25,000 hours of instruction, with more than 120 Lit Hum and Contemporary Civilization instructors per semester;
  • the College’s class size is substantial (the Class of ’23 totals 1,406), yet the College is still committed to teaching Core classes in seminars of no more than 22 students; and
  • Core instructors come from departments such as history, classics, philosophy, political science, art and music, and are asked to teach a multi-disciplinary course outside their primary field of expertise. Coordinating the talent that teaches Core classes takes extraordinary effort.

All of which is to say that maintaining the Core is a massive undertaking. It’s also an expensive one, because each and every student is a guaranteed participant. Columbia relies upon alumni contributions, including gifts to the Core through the Columbia College Fund, to help underwrite those enterprise costs as well as to fund innovative programming and events for students.

I hope the Centennial serves as a call to arms for Columbians to ensure that the Core remains vibrant and impactful as it enters its second century. There are so many ways alumni can invest in the Core, and gifts of all sizes are both needed and welcome. To learn how you can support the Core and be part of this exciting effort, please visit core100.columbia.edu.

This year promises to be a momentous one for Columbia and the Core. I look forward to both hearing your Core Story and celebrating this anniversary together.