Columbia University

Initiatives

 

Undergraduate Education Initiative


At the core of undergraduate education (Columbia College and General Studies) lies teaching. The energy in Columbia classrooms does not happen by accident. This is an institution that takes great pride in its tradition of outstanding teaching. For more than 250 years, Columbia’s greatest minds have been thinking about how to transmit knowledge and enhance intellectual skills – about what education should accomplish, and how that should adjust to an ever-changing world. Columbia has a history of great teaching and great teachers, leaders in their fields able to engage not only a small seminar, but also a large lecture hall and, often, a broad audience far beyond the campus. As public intellectuals, figures such as Jacques Barzun, Margaret Mead, Meyer Shapiro, I. I. Rabi, and Lionel Trilling were always teaching, no matter what the occasion or venue.

What Columbia’s great teachers have fashioned is a conscious structure, proceeding from the foundational experience of the Core Curriculum to the depth of advanced study in the majors. Today, we are renewing our commitment to an undergraduate education that fully integrates both breadth and specialization, an integration essential to our students’ success.

The intellectual signature of Columbia’s undergraduate education since 1919 has been its Core Curriculum. Beginning with the course Contemporary Civilization in the West, the Core has steadily expanded to incorporate Literature Humanities, Art and Music Humanities, Major Cultures beyond the West, University Writing, and Frontiers of Science. As a seminar-based curriculum, the Core has provided a highly successful formative intellectual experience for our students for almost a century.

The core courses in Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities reassert their value by engaging venerable texts and questions through the ever-changing prism of the present. And these canonic courses are necessarily supplemented by courses that introduce students to the cultures of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, in what is in effect a global extension of the kinds of critical conversations the Core makes possible.

We have already made great strides to further strengthen undergraduate education at Columbia. To strengthen the role of full-time faculty in our undergraduate courses, we have established new faculty positions to enhance teaching in the Core and in our most popular majors, Political Science, Economics, English, History, Psychology, Biology, Mathematics, with special attention to Major Cultures.

Fostering this expansion of the faculty, Trustee Gerry Lenfest, an alumnus of the Law School, has pledged $37.5 million to establish a one-to-one matching program for professorships, enabling donors to establish an endowed chair in the Arts and Sciences with a gift of $1.5 million, half of the $3 million necessary to create a chair. Trustee Lenfest has also endowed the Columbia Distinguished Professorship Awards with a $12 million gift, used to recognize ten outstanding teachers and scholars in the Arts and Sciences each year.

Providing increased financial support for our students, President Bollinger announced that Columbia will enhance financial aid and eliminate debt burdens for undergraduates whose families earn less than $50,000 beginning in the 2007-2008 academic year at the College, as well as the The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition, alumnus John W. Kluge has made a $400 million pledge to the University – the largest pledge ever devoted exclusively to financial aid – half of which will support and expand existing financial aid programs in the College.

A Columbia education confronts students with the need to develop critical thinking, intellectual literacy across the arts and sciences, strong analytic skills and techniques, and an abiding love of learning. An education for life and an education for a path in life can best be acquired together. We must sustain our proud tradition of attracting and retaining great teachers who are also leaders in their scholarly fields. We must provide our faculty and their students with the resources they need to pursue new educational opportunities outside the classroom. And we must strengthen our support of financial aid to bring the very best students to Columbia, whatever their financial circumstances. We cannot sacrifice any one of these for any of the others and we must continue our work to support these cornerstones of our undergraduate education.