San Diego State University is quiet and nearly deserted while classes are not in session.
San Diego State University is quiet and nearly deserted while classes are not in session during the pandemic. Photo by Chris Stone

Last week the Senate Executive Committee at San Diego State University approved three new courses: “Italian Food Culture,” “Cultural and Historical Origins of Surfing,” and “Amazons and Wonder Woman.”

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The Italian food course is also proposed for inclusion in the “Lifelong Learning and Self-Development” section of the general education requirements for all students. Given the precedent set by the Italian food course, the other two courses are likely future candidates for this requirement as well.

As an emeritus professor of philosophy, I am surprised by these novelties, but not incredulous. I was totally unaware, for example, that not knowing whether 3/4 of a cup or a full cup of heavy cream is the appropriate amount for one’s Fettuccine Alfredo recipe, or not understanding why a fictional Amazonian warrior leaves home to fight a war, or not appreciating the cultural differences between Polynesian and Western surfing techniques, would leave a university undergraduate bereft of important aspects of his or her self-development and deficient in life-long learning!

And I am thus gratified that university-level academic standards are being strenuously maintained—in a new way. Though to be sure, not everyone might approve.

But one might well respond to the likely criticism of these innovations by some prissy, old-fashioned, disparaging critic as follows: that SDSU undergraduates have already acquired in their university education a more than sufficient knowledge of world history and literature, of geography and psychology, of nature (physical and biological), of “great ideas” and of logical reasoning and common fallacies.  

Perhaps that is why, as part of the same proposal and following the same line of thinking, the Senate committee also recommended the deletion of the “Emphasis in European Humanities” from the humanities major. After all, students need to know something about Aztec philosophy, sub-Saharan music, Indonesian puppetry, Polynesian poetry and the like as humanities majors.

Don’t worry about Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Plato, Kant, Cervantes, Euripides, Machiavelli, Bach, Beethoven, Leonardo, Bernini, Picasso and that old Western European stuff—especially not for a humanities major!

SDSU’s academic education is secure. One must think the new way. And if you experience some tinge of loss or regret for these changes, you now can always dig in to your Fettuccine Alfredo (I recommend only 3/4 cup heavy cream) with a little Prosecco to wash it down.

 Leon Rosenstein is an emeritus Professor of Philosophy at San Diego State University.