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March 12-13, 2009
The Conference on Liberal Education and Effective Practice focused on the question: how can undergraduate programs in the arts and sciences be enhanced to empower students to be not only sophisticated, well-informed thinkers but also effective doers. Our premise is that the great tradition of liberal education, as it has evolved in the modern era, has focused on a comparatively narrow range of intellectual qualities, which, while immensely important, are not sufficient to support successful action in professional and civic contexts. If we are truly to sustain the claim that one mission of liberal education is to prepare young people to be engaged citizens and effective professionals, we need to consider how our programs can be enriched to address these goals more directly. The conference explored ways in which this can be accomplished without diminishing the things that liberal education does extremely well.
The conference was informed by four commissioned papers and one panel discussion. Robert Sternberg, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts and a longtime Yale psychologist, wrote about the cognitive qualities associated with successful action. David Hodge, president of Miami University, and his colleagues, professor Marcia Baxter Magolda and Honors Program director Carolyn Haynes, explored the link between students' intellectual and personal development and their capacity for scholarly work and effective action. Professor Janet Eyler of Vanderbilt explored how experiential education can help students develop this capacity. Diana Chapman Walsh, former president of Wellesley, and her associate, professor Lee Cuba, considered the characteristics of an undergraduate program that addresses these qualities. George Kuh, Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education at Indiana University, Steve Stemler, professor at Wesleyan University, and Armando Bengochea, Dean of the College Community at Connecticut College participated in a panel discussion focused on potential impact of programs that include an emphasis on effective practice on students from diverse backgrounds.
The conference was an invitation-only event. Approximately 30 experts from academia as well as the nonprofit and corporate worlds participated. One conference session was devoted to each of the four commissioned papers. Two conference participants offered observations and reactions to each of the papers prior to a discussion by the entire group. Three panelists provided statements during the panel session. There was also an open session at the end of the conference during which we summarized what we have learned about how to strengthen the connection between liberal education and effective practice. We will disseminate the work of the conference to our colleagues around the country through the Web and print outlets of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
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