Insistent Change: Columbia’s Core Curriculum at 100


1940s: Defending the Arts of Freedom - World War II & the Core

With the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the United States was once again at war and Columbia's general education program faced a severe test. While the U.S. military relied on colleges and universities less directly than it had a generation before, the conflict nevertheless transformed campus life. By the end of 1942, half of all Columbia students were enlisted as reserves and one third of all faculty members had entered the military or war administration. By the following year, Columbia was host to the Navy's V-12 College Training Program. With uniformed pre-medical and pre-engineering students outnumbering civilians 6-to-5, military authorities put pressure on the administration to cut liberal arts in favor of more math and science.

In response, the faculty passed a resolution: "that the study of liberal arts must not be permitted to languish during the existing national emergency, but that such study must be pursued with great vigor and to as full an extent as the circumstances of war will permit." They also voted to continue liberal arts instruction through the summer for students facing deployment. As a result of these actions, CC and Humanities and their shared small-group discussion format survived. Science A and B, however, became casualties of war-time priorities, opening a gap between Columbia's general education faculty and its scientists that would last half a century.


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