National Move to Improve Liberal Education Hits Home; FGCU Signs Pledge to Provide Learning Opportunities for Students
FORT MYERS, FL – Florida Gulf Coast University announced today that it joined 375 other institutions of higher learning in the Association of American Colleges and Universities national groundbreaking movement, Presidents’ Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning, to increase public understanding of liberal education.
“This campaign builds on a national resurgence and revitalization of liberal education practices and programs on campuses across the country,” AAC&U president Carol Geary Schneider said. “It also responds to the business community’s call for college graduates with the analytical and creative capacities provided by a liberal education.”
President William C. Merwin signed the Presidents’ CALL pledge to make liberal education an equal opportunity commitment to every FGCU student, regardless of the student’s field of study. Merwin plans to prepare articles for local newspapers as well as provide one major campus address in the next year on the values and ethics that come with a liberal education. He also is seeking to establish an Eminent Scholar’s Chair in Ethics.
“I have a passion for civic engagement and a commitment to the liberal education that links us to the community,” Merwin said. “It is a call to social responsibility and civic responsibility.”
In ancient times, Aristotle explored the idea of liberal education by suggesting a link between practical wisdom with moral virtue. Today, the AAC&U seeks to develop individuals who understand the basic principles behind the motions they perform. Liberal education teaches that free people should have to assume personal responsibility for their world and know how to use their minds to think for themselves as opposed to narrow, technical training, which promotes rote thought such as that taught to slaves.
The AAC&U is pushing for liberal education because for the first time, a majority of Americans is seeking higher education. In addition, society is questing for deepened understanding and re-examining the most basic questions about social trust, civic duty, international justice, world cultures and sustainable health.
The academic leaders who support the AAC&U’s campaign – presidents of two-year and four-year, small and large, public and private schools – agree the educational approach that best serves individuals, our globally engaged democracy and an innovating economy is liberal education. It develops intellectual and ethical judgment; expands cultural, societal and scientific horizons; cultivates democratic and global knowledge and engagement; and prepares for work in a dynamic and rapidly evolving economy.
“As we succeed at expanding students’ access to higher education, we do these students and our society a disservice if we emphasize only the ways in which that education can prepare graduates for a first job,” president of Oberlin College and former chair of the AAC&U board of directors Nancy Dye said.
Over the last several years, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), one of the largest organizations of institutions of higher education in the United States, has been working to revitalize liberal education across the country. I have joined with over 375 other Presidents nationwide to participate in AAC&U’s Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning (CALL), pledging my support for and commitment to a strong liberal education as the foundation for our programs at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Like many other programs at institutions that promote liberal education, our programs bridge the gap between theory and practice through the development of problem solving and communication skills, technological and information literacy, and creative thinking and collaboration skills. Yet we have done more, developing an academic culture that emphasizes connected knowing, civic engagement, and an ecological perspective—an especially important component of liberal education for our campus and the southwest Florida community.
Connected Knowing – our programs at Florida Gulf Coast University seek to help students integrate knowledge across a wide range of disciplines in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences as well as with professional programs in other areas. Because of the increasing complexity of issues in an expanding global environment and the critical importance of engaging diverse perspectives, we emphasize development of the critical thinking skills and the creativity necessary to think outside of traditional boundaries in order to engage real world problems, synthesize information, and offer practical solutions. While disciplinary study remains a part of the education that students receive at Florida Gulf Coast University, we also help our students gain a broader perspective that will allow them to participate in the rapidly changing world of the twenty first century.
Civic Engagement – because we believe that service to the southwest Florida and wider communities is our public trust and social responsibility, we have incorporated service learning, public outreach, and civic leadership into our academic programs and institutional culture. As part of their education, students at FGCU learn to participate as active citizens in the local and global civil society. Through the practical application of their learning, our students understand the wider connections of their education—not just across disciplines and perspectives but also with real people living in real places.
Ecological Perspective – the development of an ecological perspective is a crucial, and unique, component of the liberal education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Because the relationship between humans and the environment will take on increasing importance as the twenty first century unfolds, and because our university is ideally suited for study of the environment, we have built into our programs the development of an awareness of the issues related to economic, social, and ecological sustainability. Yet the development of an ecological perspective goes beyond that to offer students a concrete model for understanding the way in which our lives are interdependent and interconnected with the larger community of life, allowing for a deeper and richer sense of the integration of knowing that lies at the heart of liberal education at Florida Gulf Coast University.
As we near the end of our fifth year of operation, I find myself with an opportunity for reflection on and reaffirmation of our practices and our core values. We have developed a strong General Education program that builds towards the integration of knowledge from the liberal arts disciplines at the lower level. We have created the Learning Academy, a freshman learning community that assists students in becoming adjusted to the academic and social culture of an institution of higher education. At the upper level, we have created the Collegium of Integrated Learning, a core of courses that explores the roots of contemporary issues from an interdisciplinary perspective, allowing for a deeper and more coherent understanding of how and why our world is changing and of our own individual and collective roles in our various communities. Finally, our students are required to take a course entitled Colloquium: A Sustainable Future where they engage in an interdisciplinary exploration of the many, diverse interrelationships that exist within and between the human and natural worlds.
At Florida Gulf Coast University, we are committed to providing students with a liberal education that prepares them to participate actively in the political, social, economic, and cultural advancement of our region and nation. With a strong foundation in connected knowing and civic engagement and a well articulated ecological perspective, our students will be prepared to live and work responsibly, to turn their knowledge into wisdom. Along with the development of the knowledge and skills necessary for success in their professional lives, our students will develop the philosophic, scientific, and artistic habits of mind indispensable for a democratic society and a rewarding personal life.
For more information about FGCU’s campaign, contact Audrea Anderson at (941) 590-1083.
For more information about the AAC&U or Presidents’ CALL, call Debra Humphreys at (202) 387-3760 or visit www.aacu-edu.org.