George Washington University, American History and the “New Globalism”

I have written on this blog before about the importance of the liberal arts, but I now have an interesting negative example of how universities have been marginalizing not only the liberal arts but also American civilization in particular.  Let me begin with a quote from this article by Ian Tuttle in the National Review Online, dated December 29, 2016:

“Recently, GW — a 25,000-student private university located in Washington, D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood — eliminated its American-history requirement for undergraduate history majors, making it theoretically possible to graduate from GW with a history degree without ever having had to take a college-level course in U.S. history.” (emphasis added)

Tuttle’s additional facts are interesting:

“Of course, GW’s decision is hardly novel. In July, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that “only 23 undergraduate history programs at the U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 national universities, top 25 public institutions, and top 25 liberal arts colleges require a single U.S. history class,” and where the requirement remained, students could fulfill it with courses such as “Mad Men and Mad Women” (Middlebury College) and “Hip-Hop, Politics, and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut).”

What does he think about this development in the university partly founded by George Washington himself?  He gives us a clue:

“‘Globalism’ as the term of art for a sinister, George Soros–funded ‘New World Order’ has become the bête noire of a particular strain of contemporary politics. But the word ‘globalism’ is an accurate, neutral description of the type of thinking that has characterized elite universities since the end of World War II. To the administrators and academics who revise these institution’s mission statements, the nation-state has had its day. Local attachments breed conflict. Peace on Earth will reign when people share the intimacy of neighborhoods at the distance of nations. We need to work toward a ‘global community.’ Barack Obama was only parroting his education when he declared himself a ‘citizen of the world.’”

I have also made this distinction between a globalism that is simply interested in the broader culture that has something good to say to us as human beings–that is, the good, the true and the beautiful in fact–and the kind of globalism that is bent on eliminating national borders because they are believed to be too restrictive or promote national sovereignty or as Tuttle says, “breed conflict.”  I have nothing against the former type of globalism–and neither does Tuttle–but the latter kind is the very kind that dismisses any talk of an American exceptionalism, an American uniqueness.  George Washington was suspicious of this last kind of globalism, as in his eyes it tended to cause those who imbibed it to undermine “republican values” (not to mention traditional religious values).  Washington could point for proof to those many who extolled the French Revolution–at least until,the Terror caused them to rethink that.  Today it is all about how the United States was and is colonialist, imperialist, repressive of human rights (that one really is a head scratcher), and on the critics go.

These alleged sins make subjects like American History verboten.  Of course it could be worse.  There are those who believe all history is at best useless and impractical, or is useless unless it is tied to and viewed through the lens of identity politics.  Where American history is still required, it is often taught from this perspective.  To add insult to injury, American religious foundations are all but ignored or taught as typical “white, European” imperialism.  

The liberal arts, history and American history have not been presented as essential just because some faculty members demanded it to give them enough students.  They have a timeless purpose.  They call each person to examine him or herself in light of the grand ideas of what is good, true and beautiful–and in Christian institutions, these ideas are especially important from a distinctly Biblical viewpoint.  This self-examination, properly guided, produces a maturity of thought and manners, as well as a proper humility in the face of a grounded metaphysics (God as opposed to mere temporal goods).  But it does not and should not lead to skepticism IF properly guided and grounded in the Christian Scriptures.  Yes, I have also argued that the liberal arts, including history, have a practical consequence.  They do teach critical thought, improve writing and oral communication and make people better able to be rationally creative and innovative.  But they have a deeper purpose, articulated above.

American history is no different.  It just happens to emphasize the distinctly American way of thought and life that have made us as individuals and as a nation “exceptional” in certain ways.  I am not arguing that American thought and life is always right–”America, right or wrong.”  But nor am I arguing that we don’t have something very important to say to the rest of the world, through or history or by way of other disciplines.  Moreover, it is especially strange that a history major would not require American history.  I would go so far to say that it is rather odd that any university would allow a student to graduate without at least one course in American (specifically American) history.  But perhaps in the case of GWU I might want to omit American history if it taught like too many other history courses at American colleges and universities.  Nevertheless, properly conceived, American history is essential to a true education.

In the near future I will be posting another article on the liberal arts in general.

For the entire article, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443421/george-washington-university-us-history-no-longer-required-history-majors

29 thoughts on “George Washington University, American History and the “New Globalism””

    1. If they were as diligent, CU would be more like a university, whereas now it is just a university by name only. Wish it weren’t true…

      As for this nation’s religious foundations, evangelical schools often sugarcoat religion’s pivotal role in US history, turning learning into propaganda (“junk history”).

      True, non-religious universities may well ignore religion (NOT me, in my classroom), to the detriment of their students; but an education that promotes religion only as a positive force, overlooking its often destructive effects (anti-intellectualism, opposition to civil rights, justification of white supremacy, etc.) is worse than no education at all.

      1. Jeff:
        You might want to re-think some of your historical assertions regarding American history, as some of that has been debunked, for example, the widespread belief that evangelicals are/were anti-intellectual, or that it was fundamentalists or Republicans who opposed civil rights in all cases, or that evangelicals/fundamentalists support “white supremacy.” Be careful that your own disagreements with policies of the “right” don’t cause you to view those with whom you disagree as falling into those categories. I think you would be surprised, both historically and currently.

        As for Cedarville, again, because you disagree, you attach the labels or “anti-labels” you do. CU is most certainly a university more the true ideal of the Middle Ages and later than what passes for higher education today in most universities.

      1. To add to my own comment, all students that were in the major were able to finish before it was fully discontinued.

      2. When Cedarville discontinued the philosophy major, there were two full-time professors in the program.

        There are now two full-time professors who teach philosophy.

        If Cedarville discontinued the philosophy major due to financial reasons, why do they have the same number of faculty teaching philosophy now then they did then? As as former administrator, I can tell you that the lion’s share of costs in a degree program in the humanities comes from personnel–faculty!

        Let’s be honest and just admit the obvious: the reason the major was discontinued was because the two professors in the program (at least one of whom was tenured) refused to support a Mormon Republican for president.

        As an alum, I hate to say this, but it seems that Cedarville is foremost NOT about promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ, but about indoctrinating its young, impressionable students in conservative ideology. Those professors threatened the conservative hegemony of the institution and as such had to be excised like a wart or skin tag from the campus.

      3. I am sorry, but it is impossible to “be honest and admit the obvious” because it is not obvious. What is obvious to you is not to others. The demonstrable fact was that the philosophy major did not have the student numbers to justify its continuation. Could there have been other factors in the decision? Maybe, but they can’t be proven one way or another. You can’t know what was in the minds of those who made the decision beyond what was publicly stated and that stated reason was financial, not political. When the decision was made, the physics major was also dropped for the same stated reason. Why no complaints about that?

        And you are simply wrong about Cedarville. Maybe there is a certain political bent, but indoctrination? No. Of course, I realize that nothing anyone will say or do will convince you that CUs primary goal is promoting Christ (which it is) all I, or anyone else can do, is refuse to let your vindictive attitude rule the day.

        So, a pleasant day and a Happy New Year to you. :)

      4. Daniel – There were many, many other majors with fewer students the same year the major was discontinued. The students who were in the program also often published outstanding work, presented at prestigious conferences, and graduated into excellent advance degree programs.

        The two professors at the time the major was discontinued were both respected by their students and quite involved on campus. They were, not irrelevantly, more moderate than many of their colleagues in their public comments and political opinions. Prior to their departures, and prior to the discontinuation of the major, they co-authored an article explaining why they would not vote for 2012 GOP Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney. Unsurprisingly, neither professor works at university today.

        All that aside, the philosophy major is also a pretty foundational degree. It exists at every major Christian Liberal Arts school (except for Bob Jones). CU knew exactly what it was doing, and what message it was communicating, when it chose to discontinue the major.

        I am sharing this, and adding to my original quip comment that catalyzed this conversation, to underscore the hypocrisy of this post. The author is lamenting and scandalizing the loss of a specialized history major at another university…after he deliberately ignored the discontinuation of a core liberal arts major at his own university.

      5. I was there at the time and had one of the philosophy professors in a gen ed class and was in classes with at least one philosophy major student so I am aware of the basics involved. For anyone to ASSUME the reason for the discontinuation being foul is wrong. Fair to have an opinion, but innocent till proven guilty is still valid isn’t it? Assuming faculty were fired simply because of their voting decisions is absurd. I remember the 2012-13 school year had some difficult things happen with lots of mixed feelings. It’s impossible for everyone to have been pleased with the outcomes, and obviously some on this blog fall on different sides. But we can’t condemn without facts, and all there is is speculation.

      6. Unfortunately, Daniel, there was no transparent adjudicatory process for determining precisely why the major was discontinued (and its staff removed). The reasons offered were specious; they reasonably engendered suspicion. Though I cannot say with 100% certainty (a terrible, ironic pun if you CU’s history!) that the program and its professors were terminated solely for political/ideological reasons, I can make the case that you – not I – you bear the burden of proving otherwise. When you consider the context of the 2012-13 academic year (when the philosophy program was discontinued), I think you will see why.

        Prior to the philosophy program’s discontinuation, the school – though still quite conservative – had shifted towards moderation. In 2007, Shane Claiborne was invited, and then summarily dis-invited, from speaking on campus after heavy pressure from alumni and trustees (he was considered too liberal). Just four years later, in 2011, Claiborne was a keynote speaker at CU’s G9 immigration reform conference. The university routinely hosted panels and discussions representing multiple points of view, both among professors and through the presentation of outside speakers (Jim Wallis and Marvin Olasky). Professors were encouraged to teach their students to explore more than the traditional conservative view so that those students would have a firmer, deeper understanding of why they believed what they believed (and avoid the failings of many other Christian culture warriors that had become tone deaf). Even other elements of campus life (like dress code, and dancing) had been relaxed significantly in just a few short years.

        All of that changed in 2012. President Brown was not only terminated unexpectedly by the Board of Trustees; he was given an unprecedented one year as Chancellor (usually a lifetime role). VP Ruby, a more moderately-minded but still quite evangelical administrator, was fired without explanation. Multiple trustees resigned in protest over both those decisions and the university’s new ideological trajectory towards rigid conservativism. Over the course of that year, nearly 20 faculty were released – or resigned unexpectedly – and nearly each one of them were more “moderate,” theologically and politically. Some were told to resign, others asked, and still others placed in such a difficult and restrictive environment that they essentially had no other choice. Some still remain on campus in large part because they have no other options for employment. Almost every one of them were replaced by faculty with some connection (past employment, seminary degree) to Southern Seminary.

        Dr. Estes is a terrific example. Prior to the 2012 “revolution” of sorts, he was one of the most highly regarded professors on campus. He’s a graduate of CU, and has taught there for well over 40 years. He spoke in chapel every semester, and he was also the head of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies. He literally prayed for each of his students, one by one, throughout the Fall and Spring semesters. After the department was transformed in 2012, Estes was quickly removed from teaching both Worldview Integration and Wisdom Literature, his two most cherished classes. He was also barred from teaching in chapel. Why? Because he taught the old idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” That idea was viewed, by the new department leadership, was undermined a high view of Biblical truth. Dr. Estes has since been relegated to teaching the newly designed Spiritual Formation course to freshmen. As a nearly 70 year old professor, his alternative employment prospects are slim to none.

        You’re right. Neither of us were “in the room” where many of these decisions were made. But in lieu of that context, I think you bear the burden to show why the faculty were removed for reasons other than politics and ideology.

  1. “You might want to re-think some of your historical assertions regarding American history, as some of that has been debunked, for example, the widespread belief that evangelicals are/were anti-intellectual, or that it was fundamentalists or Republicans who opposed civil rights in all cases, or that evangelicals/fundamentalists support “white supremacy.”

    This is one giant straw man. You are being dishonest–indeed, blatantly so. Where did I say that fundamentalists or Republicans opposed civil rights in all cases?

    I did not even mention the word “Republican” in my response!

    Ask for forgiveness, and go forward and sin no more! But knowing you and your unwarranted ego, you will likely won’t. For shame.

    1. “This is one giant straw man. You are being dishonest–indeed, blatantly so. Where did I say that fundamentalists or Republicans opposed civil rights in all cases? I did not even mention the wor “Republican” in my response!”

      He is not being dishonest because his conclusions about what you were saying are based on your own past words. I am sure, if we had the time, we could go back through the blog’s archives and find numerous instances of you making such statements about fundamentalists and republicans. You maybe didn’t use the exact words “in all cases” but your own words consistently target fundamentalists and republicans with these accusations. So, you didn’t have to say the word “Republican” in your response for Dr. Clauson to respond as he did because we already know you have said it in the past.

      “Ask for forgiveness, and go forward and sin no more! But knowing you and your unwarranted ego, you will likely won’t. For shame.”

      Apologies in advance if this offends you, but to be honest, you illicit the same reaction in me. Nothing personal.

      Once again, Happy New Year and God bless you :)

      1. I have never said that Republicans opposed civil rights in all cases. Look all you want. If you have that kind of time, perhaps I should change jobs with you, no? :-)

        Mr. Clauson misspoke. He should apologize, at the least, for his dishonesty. His reckless posts often become a source of embarrassment this otherwise decent blog. I wonder how many of his colleagues on this blog wish he were more measured before he took aim and fired.

      2. “I have never said that Republicans opposed civil rights in all cases. Look all you want”

        I acknowledged you never said “in all cases”. Why you feel the need to say so again is beyond me. All I said was that you consistently target fundamentalists and republicans with accusations of opposing civil rights. Is that incorrect?

        As far as your Dr. Clauson comments are concerned, being familiar with at least some of his colleagues, I feel pretty confident in saying that if any of them had an issue with him, they would let him know. However, they would be able to do so constructively, respectfully, and as a friend, not recklessly tossing around accusations of dishonesty or embarrassment.

        And you know what? I need to do better at that myself. Probably most people do.

        Pleasant day :)

  2. Anonymous:
    In this blog I am not concerned with philosophy. It is about history. If I were hypocritical, I would have said that history is necessary and philosophy is not. If you want to argue the necessity of philosophy as a liberal arts discipline, that’s fine, but to accuse one of hypocrisy is illogical–and in this context, perhaps a bit agenda-driven.

    I do happen to agree philosophy is also an essential liberal arts discipline–but in a Christian context/university it must always be tied to the boundaries created by special revelation. It should not act as some sort of autonomous endeavor–which is its current direction in the field, as I am sure you know. Philosophy will be back at some point, I am sure.

    1. And to Daniel’s point it is and was absurd (as he said) to think that political views led to anyone’s dismissal. That I can say is unequivocally false.

      1. For Anonymous:
        1. It is you who have the burden of proof when making an allegation. And when “proving,” you are obligated to use all evidence, from both sides and also not hearsay.
        2. I will say that a) a great many of your “facts” are wrong and b) your interpretations of the facts that are true are extremely biased.
        Let me reiterate that no faculty member or administrator was terminated on account of political ideology. Period.

  3. Perhaps I used the wrong. I apologize.

    It’s, at the very least, inconsistent to argue for the indisputable importance of a niche history major if you cannot make the same sort of case for a core liberal arts major. Honestly, I’m not really sure what you mean when you say that philosophy must always be “tied to the boundaries created by special revelation.” I know what special revelation is; I just don’t understand what it means for an academic study to be “tied to the boundaries created” by special revelation.

    I invite you to review my most recent reply to Daniel (above) regarding the reasons for the abrupt discontinuation of the philosophy program, its professors, and the many other changes that occurred on campus during the 2012-13 academic year. I think that context is pretty compelling. If you can contradict anything I have said – or even the entire premise! – with some new information, I’m all ears.

    1. I just saw your comment, Dr. Clauson.

      Regarding #1 – Both Daniel and I are claiming to making interpretations of events we did not witness (at least entirely) firsthand. He’s arguing that professors were terminated neither for political nor ideological purposes. I’m arguing the opposite. Thus, we both bear the burden of proving our interpretations. This isn’t a criminal prosecution.

      Regarding #2 – First, may you please provide 2-3 examples of facts which are wrong? Vaguely criticizing what I said as wrong is a hair’s breadth from an ad hominem attack.

      Second, may please point out where I offered biased interpretations? The reply I wrote to Daniel almost entirely consisted of factual-recitation. It was only at the very beginning, and the very end, where I suggested that those events contextualized the discontinuation of the philosophy major and supported my original argument. That may be “biased,” but by that definition, aren’t all personal conclusions drawn from a set of observations?

      Finally, can you point specifically to where my comments rely on “hearsay”? Again, that kind of vague accusation most closely resembles an ad hominem attack, at least not without greater specficity.

      Lastly…you have tried to clarify, for the second time now, that the 2012-13 changes (or, at a minimum, the faculty and administrators who were forced out) occurred without regard for anyone’s political ideology. Setting aside the fact that you’re almost certainly relying on second-hand information (which I think you’ve tried to tried to deligitimize earlier as “hearsay”), what about their religious beliefs? Are you implying that they were not evangelical enough? I’m just trying to understand.

      1. To Anonymous:
        OK, I really don’t think this is the forum for an extended debate about what happened four years ago but I will make one last comment:
        1. You did make the first allegation about what happened at CU–who was removed and why, why the philosophy program was eliminated, etc. Thus you are obligated to support your assertion or it remains only an assertion. Anytime an allegation is made the virtuous course is to seek the truth and the only way to do that (the only fair way) is to lay out what the “accuser” knows and where he got it, in order to give the “other side” an opportunity to respond properly. I am not attacking you in this, but reminding you. In that sense, yes, it ism like a legal case.
        2. As for facts that were wrong, I am sorry to have to say that I cannot tell you any more than that. I was there and I did speak at various times to ALL the participants in the issue. I also had extensive interactions with some. That is my basis for refuting your facts in most instances (not all). That is most certainly not even close to an ad hominem attack. related to that, yes, I also see bias in your interpretations of the facts–you clearly gave the impression from the start that for the most part, nearly everyone who left CU was not in any way at fault. But you don’t know the facts, and when you did get them right, you then gave them a sinister interpretation. Again, for the sake of confidences, I cannot go into detail. By the way I still respect Dr. Estes, as do many on campus all the way up to the top. As to hearsay, well unless you tell me your facts and came from the actual participants in every case, then there is hearsay. And if some came from actual participants, was it only from those whom you supported That does not give me confidence.

        Finally, I reiterate the the third time that no one was removed for political ideology. And I am not relying on second-hand information. As I said, I had numerous interactions with all, the parties to this controversy, including the ones who left. I knew their political views from the start of my tenure at CU and did not agree with them. In fact their views were pretty well-known by many for several years–but no one made any attempt to remove them for political views that disagreed with theirs.

        I am not trying to be harsh here. Remember, that this whole issue was colored by the fact that many students in a few programs liked those people so much. Those emotions can get in the way. They can obscure the facts of the case. And they cause much turmoil. But we have to step back and examine it with dispassionate reason to get at the truth.

        Thanks for understanding.

      2. I am afraid you are guilty of not letting sleeping dogs lie!

        Thanks for saying so eloquently what I don’t have time to say.

      3. Dr. Clauson – I’ll be brief since that was your last comment.

        #1 – Let’s be clear: (1) I disagreed with Daniel’s take on the events of 2012-13, and with the university’s explanation. (2) I proposed an alternative take: an ideologically-led effort to transform the school into a more conservative Christian institution, leading to departure of many faculty and campus leaders. (3) I argued that my take was far more plausible than the university’s public position (the major was discontinued for data-driven reasons only, the professors who left did so only coincidentally at the same time, etc). (4) I also provided much of the evidence that I know of.

        I think all of the above was pretty fair and thorough. It seems the only thing you still needed was to know from where I got my information. Of course, I don’t think I’m any more obligated to say how I came about that evidence than you are obligated to share about the conversations you wish to keep in confidence. That said, I can share that I was present and/or spoke with the many of the individuals involved, as you did. Have I now satisfied your expectations?

        #2 – Even though you think the “courageous” thing to do is to share as much as possible, you have excused yourself from doing so here by, ironically, appealing to the same excuse used by the university in 2012-13: confidentiality. By claiming the things you have, and the sources you have, are you not also committing the same “hearsay” offense of which you’re accusing me?

        Other — You continue to return to and refute the role of politics in the events of 2012-13. I’ve tried, in my last couple of comments, to focus on the religious/ideological question. Why do you keep side-stepping that, and reverting back to questions about politics, even after I’ve – for the most part – abandoned that position in this conversation?

  4. Mr. Clauson said: “Let me reiterate that no faculty member or administrator was terminated on account of political ideology. Period.”

    How would YOU know? You are a tenured professor without an administrative appointment.

    You are acting as if you know something that someone in your position should not know. Personnel matters are not to be public information.

    Are they at Cedarville? If they are not, then I ask again. How do YOU know?

    Or are you making baseless claims, once again?

    1. Jeff:
      I am surprised you are making thinly veiled accusations that somehow I became privy to information I shouldn’t have known. I made the point in my comment to Anonymous that I spoke to all of the parties in the controversy over a long period of time and even at times attempted bring parties together. Personnel matters are not what I was talking about (I was not in those high level meetings), but the long-term political views of the parties, which were never used by anyone I spoke to as a justification for any action. Faculty members made political comments at conferences, in the classroom, in meetings, in newspapers, to me personally and to others, In fact, I was present in most of these venues when political comments were made. I didn’t agree, but so what? It was you who seemed to think that CU permitted no political dissent. These comments in print and orally went on for years with no action or even any complaints by anyone I knew that action should be taken. Now you ought to see that political dissent is allowed. Our ultimate unity is in Christ, no matter how much we disagree on political/economic issues.

      NOW, to the main issue, I am sure you support this blog in arguing that history is an important discipline. That was the main issue I thought. We became distracted.

  5. Wow what a mess this comment chain turned into.

    I’d like to provide a little more context. Cedarville has been moving for probably twenty years (at least) towards a more theologically conservative message dressed up in a more liberal package. I think it’s unwarranted to believe anyone that was fired in 2012 or the purge of 2006ish timeframe was due to political beliefs. From the people I’ve talked to it sounded more like the university was trying to bring themselves to a more fundamentalist position and maybe also tightening things up. The only professors I personally knew who lost their jobs were amazing teachers who liked to stir the pot.

    Shane Claiborn in my opinion is very fundamentalist, it’s wrapped up in a politically liberal package but he’s also really cool and loves Jesus very deeply.

    Other anonymous some of your context was just flat out wrong too, that’s okay we all make mistakes.

    To everyone involved in this, please take a step back and think “what is my motivation?” That’s a question we all need to ask ourselves more often.

    1. Which “Other anonymous” are you referring to… “Anonymous” or “Anonymous B”?

      If you are referring to “Anonymous B”, I would kindly ask you to elaborate where you believe I was wrong.

      1. It was actually the plain anonymous not you. I do not recall seeing anything factually incorrect from you, my last question does apply to you and everyone else though. No need to respond with an answer, just keep it in mind.

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