John Erskine CC 1900, AM 1901, PhD 1903, LittD (hon. caus.) 1929 was an English professor at Columbia from 1909 to 1937 and was the Father of the Core Curriculum. He was among the first Columbia educators to have the brazen audacity to suggest that the classics be read in translation instead of the original Latin or Greek.
As a student, Erskine co-wrote the 1900 Varsity Show, The Governer's Vrouw, with poet Melville Cane. That same year, he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and his signature is among the first one can see in the records of the Columbia chapter of the national honors organization.
He delivered a speech entitled "The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent" at Amherst, before World War I, which is believed to embody the philosophy behind the formation of the Great Books seminar which became Lit Hum.
Erskine won the Butler Medal in 1919 but went on to antagonize University President Nicholas Murray Butler. In 1925, with the independence of Columbia College was in doubt due to Butler's anti-collegiate machinations, Erskine led a committee of the Class of 1900 proposing that a new campus be built specifically for the college someone along the Hudson River, near Baker Field.
Despite his deep ties with Columbia, differences with departmental colleagues caused him to resign in 1928, and he became the president of Juilliard. Proving Columbia just didn't know how to quit him, it still awarded Erskine an honorary degree the following year.