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Enhancing the Core
Endowed Chairs Announced, Center To Be Created

With financial support from alumni, the College has created endowed chairs to reward and encourage professors who regularly teach Core Curriculum courses. Four chairs were announced by Dean Austin Quigley at the Hamilton Awards Dinner on November 18, with between six and nine more planned.

In addition, a new center for the Core Curriculum will be created on the main floor of Hamilton Hall as part of an extensive renovation of the College's flagship building. "There's a whole life to the Core that's just about invisible here," noted Quigley. "This will bring more attention to the Core."

Quigley called the Core chair initiative the academic extension of recent physical upgrades on campus, including renovations of Butler Library, the gym and residence halls, as well as the construction of Lerner Hall and the new Broadway Residence Hall. "The idea of endowing the Core is part of trying to put the College back at the center of the University, which has been President Rupp's mission since he got here," he said.

A committee comprised of people teaching in the Core selects the recipients based on their academic records, publications, student evaluations and commitment to the Core, as demonstrated both by regular teaching in it and active participation in its administration and weekly faculty meetings.

Martha Howell
Photo: Eileen Barroso

Professor Martha Howell, chair of the history department, is the first holder of the Gustave M. Berne Professorship in the Core Curriculum, endowed by Robert Berne '60 and named for his father, Gustave Berne '22. Howell started teaching CC when she was a graduate student at GSAS in the late 1970s, and since joining the faculty in 1989 she has taught the course for a semester almost every year.

"It's a wonderful idea to recognize the contribution that faculty make to the Core, and also to show that there's no disjunction between active scholarship and efforts in general education - it's very hard to do both," said Howell.

Said Berne, "Teaching in the Core takes up an enormous amount of time and may not help advance a professor in his or her chosen field, but it's very important to the College and so it's important for it to be encouraged."

Endowed chairs are rare for teachers who focus on undergraduate students, and they are usually given to specialists, Quigley noted.

"Endowed chairs is an example of how to make sure the teaching of undergraduates has the same perks and privileges as teaching on the graduate level," he said, adding that the chairs will also "give an incentive to provide more time for big picture thinking, even though the payoff in terms of research articles and so forth is limited."

In order not to compete with departmental chairs, which are conceived as permanent positions, the Core chairs are being given on a five-year rotating basis. In addition to the prestige that an endowed chair brings, the holders also receive a moderate annual stipend.

Kathy Eden
Photo: Eileen Barroso

"I think it's important as an honorific, because it makes it clear that the College administration puts the Core at the center of the College education," said Kathy Eden of the English and comparative literature department, holder of the Mark Van Doren Professorship in the Humanities. "The chairs bring the Core to senior faculty's attention, and one hopes that the community's recognition will encourage those faculty who've not taught in the Core or considered teaching in the Core to do so."

Michael Rothfeld '69 has endowed the Mark Van Doren chair, naming it after one of Columbia's most eminent teachers. "Even after Van Doren became a great writer and theorist, he still continued to teach Humanities courses to undergraduates. He's a terrific example for Columbia's senior faculty who are critical to the continued success of the Core Curriculum," said Rothfeld.

Jim Barker '57, who endowed the James R. Barker Professorship of Contemporary Civilization, now held by Classics Professor Jim Zetzel, also emphasized the need for supporting the Core, since it is a main feature that distinguishes Columbia from other schools.

"When I was there, all the big guns - Trilling, Shenton - were teaching Humanities, and that's so important to continue," he said. Robert Kahan '69 has endowed the Theodore Kahan Professorship in the Humanities, held by Classics Professor Gareth Williams.

Launching of the chairs coincides with a renovation of Hamilton Hall that will feature the creation of a new center for the Core Curriculum, whose administrative office on the fourth floor will be incorporated in the space currently used by the Admissions Office on the main floor. Admissions will move across the hall to the offices formerly occupied by Student Services, which will complete its move into Lerner Hall.

The new Core center is expected to include a library with general education books and background materials that past professors have found helpful, a seminar room for the approximately 50 Core teachers to come together for their weekly meeting, and a room for developing on-line resources.

"It's important to give the Core a space that students and faculty will be attracted to and where they'll be able to think about how they learn and teach," said Kathryn Yatrakis, dean of academic affairs and associate dean of the College.

The Core center is expected to encourage more interaction and creative cross-pollination among the teachers and materials of Literature Humanities, Contemporary Civilization, and Art and Music Humanities. "It's developing the Core as a set of related courses rather than juxtaposed courses," said Quigley.

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