Continuing the Conversation (Unabridged Version)

Questions, Thoughts, and Quotes from the 8th Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts

Abridged Conversation Unabridged Conversation Conversation Overview


Professor Lisa DeBoer contributed:

  • I kept thinking about the relationship between $$ and institutional goals.  As Julie recounted it, in the 1960s there were two models in the offing for how to accommodate student demands for change, and political education.  The one (making area studies look more like interdisciplinary) had funding from the Ford Foundation, the more radical version (including embodied knowledge, including more than academics in the learning community, identity studies) did not.  Guess which one succeeded?  For us, do we have donors and sources of funding that will step up to the plate, if we decide to define our mission in terms that are a bit outside of academic norms? 
  • I was struck by the relationship between notions of ‘academic freedom’ as they developed over the course of the first half of the century, and loss of an educational core (in which political education was seen to reside) in the second half.  To quote two different poet/lyricists:  “Freedom’s just another name for ‘nothing left to lose’” and “What you thought was freedom is just greed.”  There’s been some work done on academic freedom at religious institutions, but it seems to me Westmont could make more use of this for our own self-understanding, as well as for our self-representation. 
  • We didn’t really resolve at all the pedagogical dilemmas of representing a position.  Nor did we explore at any depth the relationship between experimentation/applied learning to political education.  That’s where the practical payoff probably is. 

Angela D'Amour (Director of Campus Life, Westmont) contributed:


Promising Idea:

  • In the same way that science and language courses have labs for hands on experience, so too should all humanities and social science courses have lab elements that move students from head knowledge into applied knowledge where they have an opportunity to see and practice what they're learning in the classroom. Political science courses should be attending city council meetings, meeting congress people and advocating for issues that are important to them. Art history students should be visiting local museums, speaking with local artists and offering art history instruction to elementary classrooms. These practices would revolutionize a liberal arts education. 
Remaining Question:
  • The catch 22 for the liberal arts institution's aim to educate students for civic involvement is that it is only so far as it involves non-partisan support. It's tricky when we're trying to develop passion in students for democratic processes but only so far as they can never truly align with a particular political candidate. We must retain our neutrality, but it's difficult to develop true interest and passion with neutrality. 

Chris Callaway (Philosophy, Saint Joesph's College of Maine) contributed:


  • • What sort of normative assumptions about democracy and citizenship lie behind various civic educational initiatives, or behind the idea of civic education itself? For example, is it premised on a claim about the value of civic engagement for living well (a la civic republicanism) or on a view of political obligation? If so, is that a problem?
  • • What reasons are there for thinking that civic formation is properly part of the mission of a college or university? How consistent is civic formation with what is clearly part of higher education (i.e., intellectual formation)?
  • • If higher education is supposed to provide a model of civic participation, is it a problem that most faculties skew strongly toward liberal political positions? Even if no department intends to hire only “liberal” professors, is it a problem if such is the end result? I suppose a different way of putting this question is: Can colleges and universities effectively model civic engagement without also modeling political pluralism? That question obviously cuts both ways; it challenges faculties that, for one reason or another, tend to be conservative.

Click here to read more from Professor Mark McIntire.



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