UVA Summit on Liberal Arts & Sciences Education
When the first two cohorts of College Fellows convened together for the first time to continue preparing the new undergraduate curriculum to be piloted this fall, they got to brainstorm with and receive feedback from prominent academic leaders who helped guide similar efforts at five other elite universities and colleges.
The UVA Summit on Liberal Arts & Sciences Education for the 21st Century, held on Jan. 20 at Morven Farm, drew a distinguished panel of prominent thinkers on undergraduate curriculum reform who were invited to share their experiences leading recent curriculum reform efforts at Harvard University, Stanford University, William & Mary, Duke University and Barnard College.
The panel joining the College Fellows, Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom, department chairs and other faculty featured:
- Kate Conley, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, William & Mary;
- Harry Elam, Jr., Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford University;
- Laura Kay, Professor and chair of Physics and Astronomy, Barnard College;
- Sean Kelly, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University;
- Suzanne Shanahan, Co-Director of Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics.
Assoc. Prof. Sarah Betzer (Art), co-director of the College Fellows, said the Forum helped to advance the ongoing effort to finalize the design for a pilot marking the first comprehensive changes to the College’s undergraduate curriculum in more than 40 years.
“It was a privilege to have the opportunity to share the Fellows’ ongoing work thus far and to connect with colleagues who have devoted tremendous time, creativity, and energy to the question of general education reform," Betzer said.
Kay who served as chair of a Barnard committee on general education requirements that oversaw a full review of its curriculum, said she thought it was a really good idea for the University of Virginia and the College Fellows to invite colleagues from peer institutions to share their experiences with similar curricular initiatives and to offer counsel on the College’s ongoing effort.
“People from outside can see things that people who have been submerged in the process for a year (or two or three) cannot,” Kay said. “All schools feel external pressure to demonstrate how they are preparing students for ‘jobs,’ and in some states, there is pressure to put general education courses online and/or reduce their number in order to make college cheaper. It is of vital importance then for leading universities, including state universities like UVA, to insist on the necessity and the vitality of the liberal arts as part of a college education.”
Conley said bringing colleagues from various institutions together could always yield greater insight. Members of William & Mary’s own Curriculum Review Steering Committee visited Harvard and also consulted with colleagues at other institutions.
“I love the creativity of the UVA ‘Engagements’ courses and the planning for general education proposed by the Fellows because they offer substance and cross-disciplinary perspectives that students are unlikely to find in regular departmental courses,” Conley said. “These courses offer new opportunities for learning for the students that should open their minds to unexpected possibilities as they plan their college careers.”
As Duke approaches a faculty vote on its proposed curricular reform, Shanahan said it was useful to come to Morven Farm and meet with colleagues who have been at the same juncture recently and who could offer wisdom and insight.
“I am hugely impressed with the UVA plan—both the curricular vision and implementation strategy,” she said. “The first-year Engagements are a real standout, and the mechanism of the College Fellows program is a model.”
The work of the College Fellows will continues this spring and summer, and incoming first-year students will have an opportunity to apply for selection in the pilot curriculum this fall.
“It will be exciting to see how the new Engagements courses take shape in the hands of an inspiring and committed group of Fellows,” Betzer said.