Press Releases | General Education

Alumni to President: Save the Core

Alumni Organize to Oppose the "Dumbing Down" of Brooklyn College
July 26, 1997

WASHINGTON, DC—Brooklyn College alumni opposing proposed curricular changes today sent a letter to College president Vernon E. Lattin announcing the formation of the Committee for the Brooklyn Core: “The Core Curriculum is the centerpiece of the Brooklyn College program. … As alumni, we are disturbed that the administration is pursuing an initiative, Brooklyn Connections, which will disconnect the college from its strong liberal arts tradition.”

Fifteen Brooklyn College alumni—including distinguished scholars Jules Coleman, Eugene Genovese, Oscar Handlin, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Donald Kagan—signed the letter.

The letter comes in the wake of the College’s announcement of an initiative, Brooklyn Connections, designed to “transform” the existing curriculum around “themes” such as “community studies” instead of core disciplines such as English and mathematics. According to college statements, the new curriculum will determine “decisions on

resources in the years to come,” including faculty hiring for the fall of 1997.
The Faculty Committee on the Core Curriculum, which includes professors of philosophy, history, chemistry, art, political science and English, issued a report in May, written by committee chairman Julia Driver, warning that Brooklyn Connections will kill the Core “by passive euthanasia.” A leading defender of the Core, philosophy professor Abigail Rosenthal has decried Brooklyn Connections as a “radical departure from the liberal arts curriculum” and a “distinct scaling down of ambitions for our graduates.” Preliminary votes on the initiative have shown the faculty to be deeply divided.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin, president of the National Alumni Forum, stated, “Brooklyn College alumni are shocked that the administration is proposing a curriculum that lowers standards and demands less of students. They are organizing to prevent the ‘dumbing down’ of Brooklyn College.” Alumni sought the assistance of the Forum, a nonprofit organization of alumni and trustees dedicated to academic freedom and excellence, in coordinating the letter.

Brooklyn’s existing Core Curriculum, introduced in 1981, is credited with creating a reputation for excellence that attracts students with some of the highest grade point averages of all the city colleges. It consists of 10 required courses designed to provide a common understanding of the liberal arts including art, literature, science, mathematical reasoning, computer programming, Western civilization and non-Western civilization.

The Brooklyn Core has received national recognition:

  • In 1987, a New York Times editorial declared: “The key to Brooklyn College’s success is a ‘core curriculum.’”
  • In 1989, the National Endowment for the Humanities cited the Brooklyn Core as a national model.
  • In 1990, Ethyle Wolfe, former Brooklyn College Provost, received the prestigious Charles Frankel Prize for her role in creating the Core.
  • The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has rated Brooklyn College as one of the top schools in the nation.

The Committee for the Brooklyn Core calls on the president to “avoid a tragic mistake, and not undermine but preserve and strengthen the Core Curriculum that has served its students so well.”

The following alumni signed the letter:

Craig O. Barrett ’95, student, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Stanley B. Cohen ’47, retired partner, Cohn and Marks

Selma Orleans Cohen ’48, working artist

Jules L. Coleman ’68, John Garver Professor of Jurisprudence & Philosophy, Yale Law School

Timothy T. Dickens ’95, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Atlanta Metropolitan College

Eugene D. Genovese ’53, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, University Center in Georgia

Stanley Goldstein ’59, CPA, trustee, Brooklyn College Foundation

Oscar Handlin ’34, Charles Warren Professor of American History, Emeritus, Harvard University

Gertrude Himmelfarb ’42, Professor Emeritus of History, City University of New York

Donald Kagan ’54, Hillhouse Professor of History and Classics at Yale University

Jay Newman ’68, professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph; Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

Patrice Paul Rankine ’92, PhD candidate in classics, Yale University

George A. Thompson ’95, student, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Alexei A. Waters ’95, PhD candidate in Sociology and Cognitive Studies, Cornell University

Harvey L. Young ’59, owner, Clarel Corporation

The National Alumni Forum is a non-profit organization of alumni and trustees from over 200 colleges and universities across the country based in Washington, DC It encourages alumni and trustees to promote academic freedom and excellence.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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