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Legislators seek to tweak college history requirement

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, Austin American-Statesman Staff

Some history courses offered at the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and other public institutions of higher learning in the state would no longer count toward core requirements for an undergraduate degree under proposed legislation.

Measures filed Tuesday in the Senate and last month in the House would amend a 1955 state law to stipulate that only courses providing “a comprehensive survey” of American history or Texas history would count toward the required six history credits, typically two classes.

The bills, authored by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, are in response to a report in January that claimed UT and A&M history courses put too much emphasis on race, class and gender and not enough on political, diplomatic and military matters. The report was especially critical of special-topic courses such as “American Sea Power” at A&M and “Black Power Movement” at UT.

“It is a modest and carefully calibrated step to rectify a problem that has emerged in the way in which the original legislation has been acted on by Texas public colleges and universities,” said Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, the group that produced the report. A comprehensive survey course presents a broad narrative touching on politics, economics, intellectualism, race, gender and other elements, he said.

Thomas Lindsay, director of higher education for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, agreed. “A narrowly focused boutique or special-topic course doesn’t really serve the purpose of the law, which is to enhance civic education for nonhistory-major underclassmen,” he said.

Jeremi Suri, a UT history professor, called the proposal micromanagement and misguided.

“If you had a survey course from a great high school history teacher and you’re passionate about the Civil War or World War II, why shouldn’t you be able to take a course in those topics?” Suri said. The proposals would make it harder to offer those and other courses that stop short of comprehensive surveys, he said, adding that the full impact amounts to “uncharted territory.”

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