Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1981


Basic curriculum reform is difficult at best to achieve. Although it was quickly obtained in the 1960s, when grade inflation and the proliferation of "relevant" courses accompanied the elimination of requirements, the result was faculty withdrawal or acquiescence, not basic reform. Consequently, recent moves by Harvard, Stanford, and other prestigious schools to redesign undergraduate programs represent the first attempt at fundamental curriculum reform since the 1930s and '40s. Unfortunately, because these efforts come largely in reaction to the changes of the 1960s and to the disturbing decline in undergraduate enrollments, especially in the humanities, they tend to offer old wine in new bottles. They are characterized by retreat on the part of overly tenured, largely male faculties to the "good ole days" of training scientifically-literate Renaissance men, rather than steps forward based on nonsexist education offered for over a decade now by teachers of women's studies and ethnic studies and by feminists in various disciplines.

Given the economic retrenchment in higher education, significant curriculum change is unlikely to occur again in major institutions before the end of the century. Even in the best of economic times, basic curriculum reform seems to appear in forty-to-fifty-year cycles. If history is any guide, it is unrealistic to anticipate more reform than has already taken place, at least at institutions like Harvard and Stanford and those that emulate them. I point out these patterns because the suggestions for improving humanities programs offered by Carolyn Lougee in the Spring issue of the Women's Studies Quarterly, as well as those offered by Christine Froula and Adrienne Munich, rest on the assumption that the frugal 1980s and '90s will be more conducive to curriculum reform at these elitist schools than the prosperous 1950s and '60s.



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