A University of Colorado classics professor and a regent are creating an oasis for traditionalism in Boulder, a campus whose liberal leanings have led some to call it "a Berkeley where you can ski.""If you ask a student on campus to discuss American history, it's really sad how little they know about our founders," he said.
The Center for Western Civilization will add "intellectual diversity" to CU by attracting speakers and forums, said director Christian Kopff, a professor who teaches Greek literature and introduction to the Bible. It eventually will offer a certificate for students who take groupings of classes such as Latin, philosophy and the American Revolution.
This fall, the center is Kopff's office in Norlin Library. But the 58-year-old imagines that someday, as grants and donations pour in, it will have space of its own, a place where students will gather to study how America was born.
The Center for Western Civilization is part of a conservative movement sweeping the country to reform college campuses and guide students to a traditional curriculum. It's a backlash to the wave of innovative classes on social issues, such as gender and ethnic studies.
Kopff said he won't be surprised if the center draws students who are conservative politically, acknowledging that CU is perceived as a left-leaning campus.
"It's sort of a Berkeley where you can ski," he said, referring to the University of California campus known for liberal protests.
Kopff's purpose, though, is to educate students in "areas that used to be very common on campuses and then became rare." He said CU spends a lot of time keeping up with the latest areas of multicultural studies.
"What students need is good training in traditional subjects," he said.
Kopff and Regent Tom Lucero, a Republican from Johnstown, are careful to say the center is about academics, not politics.
"It's not liberal or conservative," Lucero said. "It's a founding in who we are and what makes us American."
Former CU President Betsy Hoffman backed Kopff when he proposed the center last year.
She told Harper's Magazine the movement from the right compares to the "almost revolutionary process" of the 1960s and 1970s from the left that created women's and African-American studies.
"Today, groups of conservative faculty are forming centers for the study of Western civilization," Hoffman, who declined an interview for this story, told the magazine. "If there is sufficient student interest, as there was in the 1970s, these conservative subfields will become institutionalized."
The push from conservatives began about 20 years ago, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.
"They wanted to make sure that the history of Western civilization was not lost," he said.
Jerry Hauser, chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, said undergraduates "should be learning about our identity as a country so that they are able to participate fully as citizens."
But he said innovative courses based on gender and ethnic issues are valuable, too.
"The fact of the matter is that women and people of color have not always been treated equally in the United States and that's a part of our history too," he said. "I don't think it is a liberal bias. That is historical fact that we need to examine."
Kopff hopes to organize the center's first events this spring. He is planning a symposium in the spring of 2007, perhaps with the C.S. Lewis Foundation in California, which is dedicated to renewing Christian scholarship at universities.
Kopff has taught at CU since 1973 and has been associate director of the Honors Program since 1990. His book, "The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition," is widely cited in the classical Christian education movement.
The center has a $5,000 yearly budget from the arts and sciences department. Kopff plans to seek private donations and federal grant money as the center gets rolling. He still is selecting a board, which so far includes Lucero, arts and sciences dean Todd Gleeson and Patricia Limerick, co-founder of the Center of the American West at CU.
Gleeson approved the center and Kopff presented his idea to regents in December.
Lucero's role in the center is unique; it's not often that regents have such strong involvement in a campus project, Kopff said.
"Typically, the regents or boards are kept far apart from faculty," he said.
The idea for the center was Kopff's, and Lucero jumped on board when he heard about it.
Lucero took time out of his New Mexico vacation last summer to visit St. John's College, where the curriculum is based on classics such as Homer, Descartes, Nietzsche, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.
"Until a student has an appreciation for their Western heritage, it's difficult for them to knowledgably, actively participate in our democracy," Lucero said.
Students need a center to guide them toward Western civilization classes already offered at CU, said Ian VanBuskirk, chairman of the College Republicans.