Representatives of four liberal arts colleges met last week at Ursinus College to look at the benefits and challenges of discussion-based first-year courses that are the foundation for the schools’ liberal education.
The representatives from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., and Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., met at Ursinus to plan a series of conferences funded by the Teagle Foundation. The focus of these conferences will be the courses that serve as each school’s gateway to liberal education: courses ask the crucial human questions—How should we live? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of the universe we inhabit?—whose examination defines liberal education.
Supported by a $243,000 grant from The Teagle Foundation, over two years the group will identify best practices in these “gateway courses,” and then communicate the benefits of liberal education to a wider audience. The 2.5-year project, Gateways to Liberal Education, aims to invigorate liberal education in American colleges. It is led by Ursinus College.
“The upcoming conferences, held over the next 30 months, will strive to clarify the purposes that inform our gateway courses, discern the most effective means by which to achieve these purposes, and formulate ways in which we can determine whether in fact they achieve the transformation in students’ lives that is their aim,” said Paul Stern, Ursinus Professor of Politics, and one of the lead faculty involved in the grant. “The ultimate goal of the project is to produce a book that explains to a broad audience, as clearly and compellingly as possible, the enduring worth of these courses and the education they introduce.”
In the series of conferences faculty from the four schools will discuss ways in which interconnected seminars, or common syllabi, identify essential texts, skills, and experiences that prepare students for fulfilling careers and lives as responsible citizens after college. The conferences will also explore issues such as benefits to faculty teaching such courses, how common inquiry can bond faculty and students, and how colleges can assess what they are accomplishing. Later conferences will be open to faculty from other schools interested in incorporating similar pedagogies and courses in their general education programs.
“At a time when there is widespread criticism of higher education, this grant is an encouraging sign that what certain liberal arts colleges have been doing is cause for hope in the future,” said Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lucien “Terry” Winegar, who coordinated the Ursinus grant proposal.
The grant concurs with The Teagle Foundation’s interest in seeking and supporting courses and programs that equip students to deal effectively with questions of meaning, value, and responsibility that will persist throughout their lives.