Opinion | Staff Editorials

Fixing the failures of the Global Core

The world becomes more interconnected every day, and as it does, it becomes more and more critical that Columbia undergraduates graduate with a broad understanding of how globalization affects our lives both professionally and personally.

University President Lee Bollinger has repeatedly expressed the importance of a global education and cultural awareness with respect to our interactions with people from all over the world. In a Columbia College Today interview, Bollinger said, “It’s my belief that we need to help our faculty, our schools, our departments and our students learn more about this world and see how it will affect their fields, the subjects of their research, the lives of our students, and therefore the education they will receive.”

In an effort to globalize the Columbia experience beyond the Global Core, Bollinger has introduced several new courses abroad, in addition to eight global centers, the Presidential Global Fellowship, and the President’s Global Innovation Fund.

But Spectator’s recent news coverage suggests that Columbia has largely failed to provide its undergraduates with a truly global education. Only a small fraction of students have participated in the University’s global initiatives outside of the Core, which makes the Global Core the only guaranteed means of accessing a global education for most students. But the Global Core’s shortcomings have led many students—including some of the members of this board—to see it as a throwaway requirement to be fulfilled with easy-A courses.

Given the importance of a global education to our personal, academic, and professional lives, this is inexcusable.

To begin, the standards for determining which courses fulfill the Global Core requirement are largely unclear. The Global Core that currently exists is one that can be satisfied by both Global Urbanism, a 400-person lecture, and Latin Music and Identity, a 15-person seminar—two classes that focus on disparate cultural components with radically different pedagogical methods.

When it comes to the Global Core, we understand that a certain level of flexibility is necessary: There is, after all, no one “global” experience. But the language used to describe the Global Core is almost comically vague. Apparently, Global Core classes are all “broadly introductory, interdisciplinary, and temporally and/or spatially expansive.”

We’re not quite sure what that means, either.

In light of these shortcomings, the administration should implement changes to make students’ Global Core experiences more valuable and, well, global.

Increasing the number of Global Core seminars relative to that of lectures would be a good start. Allowing a diverse range of student voices to engage in dialogue in a seminar setting would facilitate student introduction to new worldviews. Furthermore, a seminar model would mandate student participation and help students get more out of their in-class experience.

Seminars are, of course, more labor-intensive than lecture classes. Roughly 15 to 20 Global Core seminars are taught per semester now. To enroll all 1,600 Columbia College and General Studies undergraduates in a Global Core seminar, the University would have to increase the number of seminars to 73—a difficult task, given the limited number of faculty who teach seminar-style courses. Still, the task wouldn’t be impossible, especially given that 61 faculty taught Global Core classes last semester, and many faculty interviewed by Spectator were largely in support of creating more seminars.

To help staff these new seminars, the administration could also consider implementing professor Wm. Theodore de Bary’s proposal to expand the Society of Fellows in the Heyman Center for the Humanities, which includes Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization professors, to include a class of postdoctoral fellows to staff Global Core seminars. This would also help standardize the teaching methods employed by Global Core professors.

Hiring and training new faculty members for this seminar-only approach would, of course, be costly. In order to finance these changes, we urge the Columbia administration to redirect their investments in global programs abroad to Morningside Heights. While it is true that the best way to be exposed to a new worldview is to experience it firsthand, only 3 percent of the undergraduates here have participated in these programs. The first priority of the Columbia administration should be to invest in programs available to all students, not just those who elect to go abroad.

The Global Core, as it stands, remains the only reliable means by which Columbia College and General Studies students academically engage with non-Western cultures during their time here. The University needs to invest resources into ensuring that the Global Core delivers what it promises.

The authors are members of Spectator’s 140th editorial board

To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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