Press Releases | General Education

Board Right, Faculty Wrong on American History and Western Civilization Requirements

ACTA Praises the Board of Trustees of George Mason University for Requiring Graduates to Take Courses in American History and Western Civilization
May 22, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC—In the wake of a faculty vote of censure, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni today praised the board of trustees of George Mason University for requiring their graduates to take courses in American history and Western civilization.

“In these days of anything goes, it is not easy for trustees to take a stand on behalf of higher academic standards,” said ACTA president Jerry L. Martin. “The George Mason board should be congratulated for ensuring that graduates of the institution depart with the broad-based knowledge necessary for engaged participation in civic life. This should be a model for other boards.”

The GMU board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new set of general education requirements for all undergraduates at GMU. Although the requirements for the most part had been designed by the faculty and approved by the Faculty Senate in March, they provoked a hostile response from the Faculty Senate on Friday which called the board’s addition of U.S. history and Western Civilization “academically inferior.” The faculty-initiated curriculum required students to take only one of a variety of courses on “US and Western institutions, traditions, and economies.”

The board action comes in the wake of a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni—Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century—which found that the top 55 colleges in the country no longer require their graduates to study American history even though most college seniors are unable to answer high-school-level questions about Valley Forge, James Madison, and the Gettysburg Address.

“Given these deplorable findings, the GMU board is right to take action,” said Martin. “The faculty should be ashamed of itself for opposing efforts to assure that our future leaders understand the foundations of our society.”

The GMU board action is part of a growing trend. Trustees at both the State University of New York System and James Madison University have also taken the initiative in requiring American history. Faculty at Virginia Tech implemented an American history requirement after the Virginia Legislature passed a bill urging state institutions of higher education to adopt such a requirement.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national nonprofit organization of alumni and trustees based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability.


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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