UC Leads Teagle Grant to Study, Promote Liberal Arts

Supported by a $243,000 grant from The Teagle Foundation, Ursinus will lead a group of four national liberal arts colleges to identify best practices in “gateway courses,” such as common core curricula and first year programs and seminars, and then to communicate the benefits of liberal education to a wider audience.

Teagle Foundation Proposal

In addition to Ursinus, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., will look at how core courses help students develop the judgment needed in their careers and in their lives. The 2.5-year project, Gateways to Liberal Education, aims to invigorate liberal education in American colleges.
Teagle Grant
In a series of four conferences beginning this summer at Ursinus College, 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.

An anticipated outcome of the Teagle project is the publication of a volume of essays directed at academia and prospective parents and students that makes the case for this approach to liberal education.

“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 faculty writing of the proposal. “That Ursinus was invited to apply for and administer the grant shows there is external validation in our practice of liberal education.”

Resisting the trend toward over-specialization in undergraduate education, Ursinus has long been committed to its hallmark Common Intellectual Experience (CIE). A two-semester common syllabus core course required of all first-years, the CIE uses texts to engage students in discussing three perennial questions: How should one live? What does it mean to be human? What is the universe and my place in it? Students live in the same residence halls so that the discussion of those questions go beyond the classroom to permeate co-curricular life. As stated in the grant proposal, “. . . we believe that these courses introduce an education that best prepares students for fulfilling careers and lives as citizens and human beings… examination of our gateway courses aim to clarify, for the public and for the academy, the reasons for this belief.”

According to President Bobby Fong, “When general education has been most often a series of disparate distribution requirements, Ursinus made the commitment to declare what are central questions, texts, and analytic skills that all students at the College should have in common. The traditional four-year college experience should be a time for students to discover their passions and to test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers.”

The partner schools offer the following programs:

Ursinus College:

Resisting the trend toward over-specialization in undergraduate education, Ursinus has long been committed to its hallmark Common Intellectual Experience (CIE). A two-semester common syllabus core course required of all first-years, the CIE uses texts to engage students in discussing three perennial questions: How should one live? What does it mean to be human? What is the universe and my place in it? Students live in the same residence halls so that the discussion of those questions go beyond the classroom to permeate co-curricular life.

“When general education has been most often a series of disparate distribution requirements, Ursinus made the commitment to declare what are central questions, texts, and analytic skills that all students at the College should have in common,” said President Bobby Fong. “The traditional four-year college experience should be a time for students to discover their passions and to test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers.”  

Lawrence University:

Lawrence University’s multidisciplinary Freshman Studies program exposes students to enduring works in the humanities, fine arts, and social and natural sciences to foster students’ abilities to think critically, write effectively, and speak persuasively. Initiated in 1945, the multi-disciplinary course awakens first-year students to the excitement of liberal learning. Spanning two terms of a three-term academic year, Freshman Studies is taught by faculty members from all disciplines in small sections of approximately 15 students.

Rhodes College:

Rhodes College provides a comprehensive experience that links a rigorous academic program with experiential learning in the community. The Rhodes vision embraces the college’s commitment to a values-based liberal arts education that is grounded in the 12 “foundation” requirements that emphasize students’ integrating their in-class work with research and experiential learning outside the classroom.

College of the Holy Cross:

At Holy Cross, the only exclusively undergraduate Jesuit college in the nation, every first-year student enrolls in a small, intensive, full-year seminar designed to develop critical thinking, writing and communication skills in the context of a particular topic or theme. Students choose from a variety of seminars in a range of academic disciplines, and seminars are then grouped into five interdisciplinary thematic clusters, each of which incorporates a number of shared texts, lectures, panel discussions, field trips, or other events. Moreover, the students in each cluster are housed together in a residence hall to facilitate discussion of ideas from multiple perspectives outside of the classroom. The program is called Montserrat, after the mountain in Spain where Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, chose to begin a new life devoted to study, teaching, service, faith, and purpose.

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.

“Recently, higher education in general and liberal education in particular have come in for intense criticism,” said Paul Stern, Professor of Politics at Ursinus College and a member of the grant team. “There are genuine concerns regarding its cost, its efficiency, and its value in a student’s life. The Teagle grant affords us the opportunity to respond to these concerns on behalf of liberal education. It’s our responsibility to explain to the public the worth of an education that focuses on enduring human questions.”

The grant accords 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.

The Ursinus grant team includes Dr. Stern, Professors of Biology Robert Dawley and Rebecca Kohn; Associate Professor of Biology Rebecca Lyczak; Assistant Professor of Physics Thomas Carroll; Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Phillipa Townsend, Coordinator of Research and Sponsored Programs Charlene Wysocki and Dean Terry Winegar. More information can be found on the Teagle web site.

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