In one of the articles in this series, "For the Liberal Arts, Rhetoric Is Not Enough," the president of Ursinus College presents his institution's efforts to emphasis the liberal arts on campus. The article can be found here (subscription required):
While providing an informercial for his college, President Strassburger has much reason to celebrate. In short, his college has worked to "craft a set of programs that made all the virtues that we claim for liberal education clear and transparent." They have found three primary ways of accomplishing this:
1. Their faculty has "developed a two-semester program required of all first-year students, what became known as the "Common Intellectual Experience."
2. All first year students live together in six residence halls as a way to foster intelligent discourse among the cohort.
3. Their faculty created an "Independent Learning Experience" that required every student to do "significant undergraduate research, study abroad in certain programs, student-teach, or have an academically legitimate internship."
President Strassburger's assessment data suggests that if students feel "their concerns about how to live a meaningful life are taken seriously, they will respond."
Spot on, as the British say. But what are the lessons for Lutheran higher education?
First, these efforts suggest the importance of faculty taking their vocations seriously. On a micro-level, what if faculty, as they design courses, intentionally allow the texts, values, and outcomes of a liberal education to shape the development of their syllabi and daily course content? What if they mentor students and advise them to pursue a liberal education? What if they, in their personal reading and research, grow themselves as students of the liberal arts? On a macro-level, what if faculty committees (Development, Curriculum, Assessment, and Uffda, how the list goes on!) pursue a liberal arts agenda in their committee work and use those values as the standard against which they measure their work?
Second, a Lutheran institution, grounded in Holy Scripture and the church's symobls, guided by the Church's tradition, has an embarrassment of riches to share with students. If we want to help students in a serious endeavor to consider "how to live a meaningful life," then we certainly have no reason not to orient them to the gifts Christ has given his people.
Even if a majority of faculty do not agree on these values or concerns, a concerted effort by those who love the liberal arts can make a tremendous difference in the lives of individual students and can carve out a corner in any institution in which those values survive, and by God's grace, thrive.