The Core Program

Posted by - - 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Visionaries

When the Core program was introduced in the late 1960s, it was as much about establishing Whitworth’s identity as it was developing a student’s worldview. “The core, I think, first depends on a kind of coherence about what the college is about,” said Clarence Simpson, professor of English and academic dean. “If you don’t have a basic philosophy, it would be hard to develop a core.” Second, he said, the Core program needs Whitworth’s faculty members to commit as a team to the inter-disciplinary approach.

The Core program has become the ultimate shared experience of Whitworth students, as they examine their own worldviews while exploring the Judeo-Christian, rationalist, scientific and socio-political traditions that shape culture. “There is a great value in being able to empathize, to think as other people did, to see the world as other people saw it,” said Dale Soden, a professor of history who has taught Core 150 and 250.

Core’s curriculum took shape in the mid-1960s, a period when enrollment at Whitworth and other colleges was slowing and costs were rising. “I was convinced that a crisis had arrived, and I also had a deep conviction that only colleges with real distinctions would succeed,” Simpson said. With the faculty’s support, Simpson led the effort to reevaluate and overhaul course offerings and general education requirements.

Whitworth adopted the 4-1-4 calendar to provide two full semesters and a month-long January Term. Simpson and history professor Fenton Duvall, along with their colleagues at Whitworth and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created the blueprint for Core. “We wanted it to be a part of ‘The Big Conversation,’ and we wanted it to reflect Whitworth’s distinctive value of openness as well as its sense of Christian community,” Simpson said.

Core 150: The Judeo-Christian Tradition was launched in fall 1968; the following year Core 250: The Rationalist Tradition and Core 350: The Scientific Tradition were introduced. “We were not the originators,” Duvall said. “But we were definitely in the forefront of something that became a movement at that time.”

As the Core program matured, many of Whitworth’s best professors would become inextricably linked to the courses, among them Simpson and Duvall, as well as Leonard Oakland (English), Kathy Storm (Psychology), Lois Kieffaber (Physics), Corliss Slack (History), and Forrest Baird (Philosophy). “Because everyone is required to take these three core classes, they form a common base of understanding and discourse,” said Storm, who has taught on the Core 250 team since the early 1980s. “It serves as an intellectual cedar chest for all of us. It is the vessel for our rich intellectual heritage.”

The content of the courses has changed over the years in response to cultural shifts and new voices, but of the three courses, Core 250 has remained the most consistent, covering the epistemologies, metaphysics, politics and ethics of a wide range of thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle to the philosophers of intellectual history through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Whitworth’s identity is as clear and distinctive as it is today in large part because the Core program is woven into its fabric. “Core has always been presented with challenges and criticism – it should be more Christian, it should be less Christian, it should be less Western, it doesn’t include everything it should,…” Oakland said. “We have not achieved Platonic perfection, but without denying the validity of those criticisms, we are still willing to say this is something well worth doing in the education of our students. I hear that from alumni all the time: that Core is something that made a big difference for them.”