Insistent Change: Columbia’s Core Curriculum at 100


1919: The Moral Equivalent of War

The Core's founding course was an unintended consequence of the Progressive Movement, World War I and the ambitions of Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler. Butler greatly admired the cultural literacy and scientific progress made possible by German education. However, after the sinking of the Lusitania and President Woodrow Wilson's declaration of war against Germany in 1917, Butler set out to make Columbia a national leader in America's mobilization.

Butler exhorted American universities to train the tens of thousands of officers needed to fight "the war to end all wars." Back on campus, he drafted Columbia philosopher Frederick J.E. Woodbridge to orchestrate the production of "War Issues," a curriculum ultimately exported to Student Army Training Corps units on more than 200 campuses nationwide. The intensive year-long course was intended to provide soon-to-be soldiers with an understanding of the war's causes and the liberal-democratic ideals for which they were fighting. War Issues was taught just once before the war ended in November 1918, whereupon a "Peace Issues" variant naturally occurred to its designers.

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