Columbia Global Centers | Beijing collaborated with Symposium China Project to invite Professor Richard A. Billows from Department of History at Columbia University to discuss liberal arts education, its values and challenges on July 25 in Beijing.
Billows outlined the establishment of the Core Curriculum at Columbia University in the year of 1917, a time when the United States was debating it’s entry into World War I. A required course titled “Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West” emerged to encourage Columbia students to consider for themselves the fundamental issues in conflict. Since then, the Core Curriculum at Columbia University has expanded to included non-western cultures, science components, and numerous other areas. This module offers a significant degree of shared experience between all students who have attended Columbia University.
Using his experience as a Core Curriculum instructor and former chair of “Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West”, Billows then took a specific text from the course to give the audience a small sample of what a typically class would be like. Utilizing pro-Socratic Greek philosopher, Protagoras, as an example, Billows demonstrated the importance of critical thinking and how a seemingly unrelated text from centuries ago can still speak to modern society and the fundamental issues we face today.
This was then followed by an interview between Professor Billows and Dengyang Liu, a graduating senior at Dartmouth College and a Q&A session with the audience. Members of the audience inquired about the differences in a liberal arts education, especially from what Chinese students are typically accustomed to. Billows further stressed this type of education, especially as the Chinese education reform is gaining momentum, produces critical thinkers and is pivotal to higher education.
The seminar was one of the public events in the program "Symposium: Literature Humanities Reading Salon."