Insistent Change: Columbia’s Core Curriculum at 100

1970s and Early 1980s

1970s and early 1980s: From Stagnation to "the Woman Question"

The 1970s and early 1980s were a time of continuing stagnation for Columbia general education. New York's struggling economy and rising crime led to declining enrollments. Long-standing student complaints about the irrelevance – or conservatism – of CC and Humanities A were now compounded with parental concerns about safety and saleable skills in tough times.

In response to these pressures, a 1970 committee headed by Slavic literature professor Robert Belknap proposed making the CC and Humanities sequences optional. Surprisingly, neither the committee's members nor campus media of the time expressed alarm. Nevertheless, the faculty, aware of CC-B's fate, ultimately voted against Belknap's proposal.

The rescue of Columbia's general education program ultimately came from an unexpected source: Hoping to improve student morale – and attract more applicants – the Columbia Trustees voted to admit women to the undergraduate college in 1983. Quite suddenly, the university found itself back in the sort of do-or-die situation that had delivered it from stagnation in the past: How must the curriculum change to meet the needs of a coed student body? For the next few years Columbia's mostly male faculty and administrators grappled awkwardly – and sometimes acrimoniously – with "the Woman Question." In grappling, however, lay change.

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