Westmont Magazine Globalization and the Liberal Arts
A Report by Professor Lisa Deboer on the Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts
At Westmont we educate young people for lives of Christ-centered service. Recruiting professors who care about the implications of faith for scholarship helps us accomplish this goal. But the college has another, less well-known educational role: modeling a Christian liberal arts college in the national community of colleges and universities.
That’s one reason the college sponsored the Sixth Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts, “Globalizing the Liberal Arts,” in February. The Institute for the Liberal Arts hosted the two-day event, which is unique in the world of higher education. Characterized by creativity, hospitality, the free and thoughtful exchange of ideas, and a commitment to practical application, the annual conversations demonstrate in theory and in practice Westmont’s contributions to the Christian liberal arts project.
This year’s topic, “Globalizing the Liberal Arts” began with a session on history and rationale with talks by Susan Van Zanten Gallagher (an English professor and director of the Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development at Seattle Pacific University) and Eve Stoddard, (professor of English and chair of Global Studies at St. Lawrence University). The desire to globalize American education is not new, but it certainly accelerated after World War II. In the 1970s and 1980s it diversified as programs shifted from “internationalization” with its implicit emphasis on nation-states and national security, to “globalization” with its more sociological emphases.
Gallagher presented a case for globalization rooted in a biblical vision of shalom, where individuals are part of a larger, created cosmic whole, meant to be justly and rightly ordered. Stoddard explained St. Lawrence’s rationale for a global emphasis rooted in both classical ideas of the cosmopolitan person (literally, “world citizen”) and in enlightenment ideals of freedom and individuality. One of the questions suggested that faith-based colleges might have a more coherent rationale for globalization than public universities with their statewide and national constituencies.
While approaches to globalization may differ from college to college, all schools face the challenges of realizing their ideals in concrete ways. The Saturday morning sessions spoke to this. Lester Monts (senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan) and Atom Yee (dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University) described specific programs at their schools and discussed their successes and challenges. Kevin Hovland, associate director for global initiatives at the American Association of Colleges and Universities, described his organization’s efforts to help colleges that want to improve their ability to educate for global citizenship. A key theme in these presentations was “integration.” One course requirement or one program area is not sufficient. Global perspectives need to be integrated into the institution as a whole.
The last session tackled the challenges a global perspective brings to teaching and learning within disciplinary frameworks. Helen Rhee from Westmont’s religious studies department discussed how her assignment to teach Christianity as a global religion revised her thinking, and thus, her teaching. David Summers (William R. Kennan Jr. professor of history of art at the University of Virginia) has spent the last 10 years attempting to revise the methodological framework of art history to make it a global discipline rather than a merely Western one. Both Rhee and Summers agreed that the challenge of globalization is a good one that results in better scholarship, better courses, and a better education for students. The question that emerged was not “if,” but rather “how.” Are there, in fact, adequate resources to support retooling courses, not to mention entire disciplines?
Coherence, integration, support. While the details of each of these requirements will necessarily differ from institution to institution, Westmont’s Institute for the Liberal Arts provided a hospitable space for all participants to clarify the question of globalization for their school — and to be reminded that faith-based colleges have much to contribute to the contemporary landscape of higher education. To find out more about the “Conversations on the Liberal Arts” visit www.westmont.edu.