Schneider's talk takes foundations of liberal education into 21st century


Logo for Madison Vision Series Contemporary issues in an engaged society

Americans should look to the nation’s founders for guidance on the indispensible value of education, according to Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“For our nation’s founders, liberal education helped ensure the future of freedom. But American society has largely lost sights of the civic and ethical purposes of liberal education,” Schneider said in an Oct. 16 lecture that transcended time to take her audience back to the era of James Madison and his cohort.

However, Schneider saw hope in James Madison University’s foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. She lauded its efforts in being at the forefront of ethics and student engagement in higher education. “You have been partners with us at AAC&U for quite some time now and are pioneering at JMU,” Schneider said. “Today, we can carry the foundations you’ve laid and take them forward.”

Schneider presented a discussion on “Liberal Education and Student Success: Making the Connections, Mapping the Pathways” Oct. 16 to an audience of faculty members and students in the Concert Hall of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. In her position as president at the AACU, Schneider dedicates her time to advancing and strengthening liberal education for undergraduates.

In introducing Schneider, JMU President Jonathan Alger emphasized his enthusiasm for having such a great thinker and leader in higher education speaking on issues that JMU holds dearly. At JMU, students are encouraged to integrate critical thinking, ethical reasoning and problem solving into their liberal arts coursework. “We believe this [liberal education] system meets the demands of the 21st century,” Alger said.

Schneider described that while terminology on the subject can vary, AAC&U purposefully uses the term “liberal education.” As such, the term emphasizes “liberation”—the idea that education frees people.

The three enduring goals that a liberal education emphasizes are broad knowledge (of science, history, society and cultures), powers of the mind (reasoning, discernment and judging), and personal integrity (ethical and civic responsibility). “These goals remain constant and essential even as the world changes,” Schneider said. Liberal education always rethinks its practices and applies these constants to new scenarios.

Under Schneider’s leadership, AAC&U has taken on an initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise, which is designed to tackle 21st century issues in college education and students’ engagement in them. LEAP encourages students to become engaged in “big questions” that matter to them; within students, it anchors a sense of personal and social responsibility to take out into the world; and it places emphasis on integrating and applying learning.

Schneider discussed the importance of what she calls “High Impact Practices”—things like first-year seminars and experiences, writing-intensive courses, undergraduate research, service learning, internships, and capstone courses and projects. In emphasizing the importance of HIPs, Schneider turned the conversation toward the audience. “How have you seen HIPs impact students?” she asked. The responses supported her point.

Dr. Scott Paulson, physics associate professor and coordinator of Cluster 3 General Education courses, replied, “Students take ownership of their learning.”

Dr. Barry Falk, director of the Honors Program and professor of economics, added, “Instead of reproducing knowledge, students create knowledge.”

Schneider chimed in, “They make civic and ethical inquiry pervasive.”

A liberal education connects vision and practice. It fuses the envisioning of humanities with the precision of math and science. It contributes to international understanding and cooperation. It applies creative imagination and trained intelligence to the solution of problems.

“A liberal education is indispensable in building commitment to and a capacity for solving these problems,” Schneider commented.

Dr. Schneider’s presentation was the second of many lectures in the Madison Vision Series. The series is funded by donors to the Madison Vision Fund and sponsored by the JMU Office of the President and JMU Outreach and Engagement’s Madison Institutes.

The next lecture will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Grafton-Stovall Theatre. It will feature WorldCom Corporate whistleblower and internationally recognized expert on ethics and leadership, Cynthia Cooper.

The lectures are supported by the Madison Forever Vision Fund,

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Oct. 18, 2013

By Rosemary Girard ('15)

Published: Friday, October 18, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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