The First Word

Image of President L. Jay Lemons

By L. Jay Lemons, President

Over the last year or more, prompted in part by the difficult economy, much has been written about the value and relevance of higher education, especially a liberal arts education. It’s no secret that when the job market suffers, questions are raised about the appropriate balance between developing intellectual skills and developing practical skills. Both are obviously important.

Our mission is to provide students an opportunity to explore their interests and to help them develop the intellectual skills that are at the heart of a rigorous liberal arts curriculum. A liberal arts education provides both breadth and depth within and across disciplines. This grounding in the liberal arts is central to every major at Susquehanna. The liberal arts are timeless and endure because they are, as noted in the Yale Report of 1828, “the discipline and furniture of the mind,” giving students the knowledge and ability to develop a set of intellectual skills to prepare them for a changing world.

Susquehanna has provided an outstanding education for more than 150 years, but our world is changing at warp speed. When our faculty began a once-in-a-generation curriculum review four years ago, they based their work not only on our own judgments about what Susquehanna graduates need to know, value and be able to do to be successful, but also on emerging trends in the educational and cultural landscape.

With our own organic work here, and with an eye toward the prerequisites for creating citizen leaders in an increasingly interconnected world, our faculty produced a curriculum that has helped to ensure that the education we offer remains relevant and challenging. In other words, it will fulfill the goal of producing graduates who acquire knowledge and skills that are at once stimulating and useful.

By asking what they wanted their students to know when they graduated, our faculty arrived at a consensus of four main learning goals: an awareness of the creative, natural, societal and cultural forces that shape the world; an integrated set of intellectual skills; a mature understanding of self; and an integrated sense of personal and ethical responsibility. Every course in the new Central Curriculum must fulfill one or more of these learning goals.

I was struck by the happy alignment of the goals of the Central Curriculum and the needs articulated by business leaders in a recent report. In January the Association of American Colleges and Universities released the results of a survey of more than 300 employers that suggested learning should be clustered around the following:

  • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world.
  • Intellectual and practical skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively.
  • Personal and social responsibility, including an understanding of the importance of ethical decision-making and civic engagement.
  • Learning that supports the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings through internships and other hands-on experiences.

Employers also told AAC&U that they expect students will complete a significant project before graduation; at Susquehanna, we call these projects capstone experiences. Employers expect students will complete an internship or a community-based field project; Susquehanna offers students multiple opportunities for internships on and off campus. And employers expect students to develop research skills; at Susquehanna, students work closely with faculty on their research, and opportunities for student research will improve with the opening of our new science building.

Two other employer expectations—that students will understand what it means to act ethically and to demonstrate knowledge of diverse cultural viewpoints—are core to our mission. The Central Curriculum requires students to take an ethics course, and our new GO (Global Opportunities) program requires students to have an off-campus experience in a different cultural setting for two weeks or longer.

Our work continues to evolve as new courses and study-away opportunities populate the curriculum. We expect that interest in the exciting academic work we are doing here will grow and that the greatest beneficiaries of that work will be our students. It is a rich journey, and we look forward to the twists and turns we know it will take as Susquehanna positions itself on the leading edge of curricular innovation in the liberal arts. While there are exciting new dimensions in our new Central Curriculum, it continues to be anchored in the timeless and enduring tradition of the liberal arts as expressed by the informed wisdom of the Susquehanna faculty. I am proud of their work, and I know our students are the fortunate recipients.

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