The First Word
"The two great points to be gained in intellectual culture are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge."
— The Yale Report of 1828
This statement, taken from one of the most influential documents in the history of American higher education, sums up the importance of a liberal arts education. For at its core, a liberal arts education provides for students both the habits of head and heart to master a particular field of study and equips them with the capacity to draw upon the knowledge of many disciplines. We expect students to build upon foundational knowledge from many fields as they then seek to understand, intervene and address important questions in their lives and careers. It begins with learning to read well and deep, to think critically, to listen to the views of others, to evaluate and synthesize evidence, to develop arguments and to speak persuasively
Although it was written nearly 200 years ago and in response to critics of the institution’s educational approach, The Yale Report remains a relevant framework for the liberal arts today. Rooted in the belief that education must “throw the student upon the resources of his own mind,” the report emphasizes the importance of maintaining “such a proportion between the different branches of literature and science, as to form in the student a proper balance of character.” Liberal arts institutions continue this practice today. The learning goals of Susquehanna’s redesigned Central Curriculum, adopted in 2009, are a case in point:
The learning goals articulate a vision of Susquehanna University students as confident, liberally educated persons who are committed to the ongoing processes of cross- and multidisciplinary education, who are capable of thinking not only in terms of their major area, but from the perspectives of other disciplines as well, and who bring together all facets of their educational experience in order to frame a way of thinking about their vocations, their major area of study, and their lives as a means to achievement, leadership and service in the world.
In 2006, campus consensus on the learning goals provided the springboard for faculty collaboration on a set of new general education requirements. The result was a new comprehensive Central Curriculum which retains the key elements of a traditional liberal arts education by exposing students to a wide range of courses that emphasize intellectual discipline and critical-thinking skills, while also providing students with opportunities for real-world application of the principles and practices they learn in class.
The new curriculum requires that students become agile in writing, speaking and working in teams, while at the same time acquiring analytical proficiency. They develop an understanding of and appreciation for ethics and diversity, and gain cross-cultural competence through the university’s innovative Global Opportunities (GO) program—a study-away experience of two weeks or longer in a culture different from their own. The GO travel experience is coupled with coursework designed to help students reflect on their experiences to determine how they were changed by them. Internships, faculty student research and senior capstone projects offer students opportunities to gain practical experience.
The faculty and administration were confident that we were on the right track with the Central Curriculum, but in January 2010, months after the curriculum had been adopted, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) released a report that affirmed our convictions even more. The report, titled “Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn,” is based on interviews with 302 employers between Oct. 27 and Nov. 17, 2009. The research found that employers endorse higher education that blends liberal and applied learning, and noted they are looking for employees who can apply a broader set of skills and higher levels of knowledge to their work.
More specifically, 89 percent of the employers count effective oral and written communication skills among the attributes they are looking for in employees. Eighty-one percent have high regard for critical-thinking and analytical-reasoning skills; 79 percent look for employees who possess the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings; and 75 percent value strong ethical standards and the ability to analyze and solve complex problems. Seventy-one percent are interested in hiring employees who possess teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate within diverse groups, and 67 percent want employees who can understand the global context of situations and decisions.
When I compare these expectations to the goals of the Central Curriculum, I am confident Susquehanna is providing students with the educational experiences they need to succeed after graduation. And as our graduates enjoy greater success, Susquehanna’s reputation grows, attracting more, high-performing students to our campus and creating even more and richer opportunities for future generations of students.
Sometimes, the best ideas are those that are old and time-tested but re-evaluated in terms of their implications for another time and place. Susquehanna’s new Central Curriculum is a great tribute to the vision of our faculty for the educational benefits that come from providing our students the discipline and furniture of the mind in the 21st century.
L. Jay Lemons, President