May 15, 2014
David A. Greene: Thoughts on a Liberal Education
“It is the job of the administration to support the faculty in their expectation of the highest levels of student achievement in a rigorous, inquiry-based educational model.”
On the Future of the Liberal Arts
This is an opportune moment for a careful assessment of the traditional liberal arts model (as much as such a thing exists). This isn’t to say that the core values and dominant educational philosophy of the leading liberal arts colleges are flawed; indeed, in my view they represent ideals that need to be preserved. The time is right to think ambitiously about how the model of liberal education should evolve and how liberal arts colleges can play an even more prominent role in influencing higher education and educating the leaders who will shape the future.
On Intellectual Culture
The colleges and universities that will separate themselves into the upper echelon in the future will do so in part by the distinctiveness and intensity of their intellectual culture. This culture is set and promulgated by the faculty, and it is the job of the administration to support the faculty in their expectation of the highest levels of student achievement in a rigorous, inquiry-based educational model. Such an academic culture depends on being able to recruit the most talented, engaged students and faculty from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures, and the insistence on building and maintaining an environment that supports the widest diversity of perspectives, both in the classroom and beyond.
On Teaching and Research
Research and teaching are deeply intertwined, making it incumbent upon the best liberal arts colleges, where great teaching is highly valued, to support faculty scholarship as well as innovative, effective teaching. This means carefully assessing policies that support scholarship and teaching as well as providing infrastructure and facilities that support research and research-based teaching. At a time when universities around the world are abandoning the humanities and humanistic social sciences, Colby and other liberal arts colleges can stake out an important position as leaders in these critical areas.
On Colby’s Future
The clear, enduring values of the liberal arts are best stewarded by institutions that recognize the need for continual renewal and innovation. Colby has the history, tradition, and the intellectual and financial resources to set a new course for a liberal education as it enters its third century. The opportunity to lead is very real, and the potential benefits are significant if fully realized. The risk of complacency is also real, with the possibility that our greatest colleges could see a slow but meaningful decline in the decades ahead. The colleges that engage in critical self-assessment, evaluate the changes taking place in higher education and beyond (and the risks and opportunities they present), and develop and execute bold plans for moving forward, will seize the opportunity to lead one of the most important sectors of American higher education. Colby College is