Practicing the Liberal Arts
On March 25, 2008, the Campus Assembly endorsed the following special emphasis theme.
At the University of Minnesota, Morris, we don’t want to just talk about the liberal arts and their value, we want to actually engage in the practice of liberal learning. Our emphasis on “practice” involves doing and living the liberal arts. We want to focus on the learning that is needed to prepare students for “work, life, and citizenship” in the 21st century. The phrase “practicing the liberal arts” operates at multiple levels at Morris. It encompasses both deliberate everyday choices and long-range planning for the future. It applies to the activities of the students, faculty, and staff, as well as those of the institution within the context of west central Minnesota and beyond. The liberal arts embody an active perspective, with practical and theoretical elements mixing by way of the four actions: explore, renew, sustain, and lead.
Exploration, in every sense of the word, permeates the learning environment at Morris—exciting research and artistic activity, creative teaching, and interdisciplinary curricular, co-curricular, and service efforts encourage the broad vision that liberal arts education promises.
Explore describes, to a large degree, what students and faculty do at Morris. Students discover new areas of learning and experience. They’re exposed to new knowledge communities. They investigate possible careers. They are also engaged in self-discovery, trying out new approaches and new identities. Faculty continually search for ways to improve student learning. They explore the frontiers of their disciplines, make new discoveries, and participate in professional communities beyond the campus. Staff, faculty, and students explore ways to serve society better through a variety of service and outreach activities that have local, regional, and national impact. A liberal arts institution enables this exploration, not only by bringing together the necessary people (students, faculty, and staff), but also by providing the necessary physical, financial, and technical infrastructure to enable that activity. It has libraries, classrooms, laboratories, studios, residence halls, and Internet connections. It has programs of academic advising, honors, study abroad, service learning, and internships.
In our rapidly changing world, a liberal arts education must be infinitely renewable. Renewing connotes a re-energizing as well as a re-imagining. Students renew themselves by trying new things, both in the classroom and outside the classroom. Faculty evaluate programs and curricula including general education, constantly making adjustments to keep up with new knowledge, changing needs, and evolving methods of inquiry. Faculty also adapt to new technologies in both teaching and research. A liberal arts college renews itself by periodically examining its mission and policies, assessing its programs and procedures, and making changes to meet new needs and situations. An institution renews its faculty and staff by supporting research and professional development opportunities. Alumni of a liberal arts college renew themselves in the process of lifelong learning.
The Morris approach to liberal education and liberal learning is intended to create a lasting and renewable impact on students. It develops skills, knowledge, and attributes that provide the basis for further and future learning, for creative problem solving and for integrative learning (the ability to pull ideas and information together from a variety of fields and disciplines and apply them to real world problems.) At Morris, timeless liberal arts precepts are framed in new and exciting ways both in the classroom and in interaction with the wider world through study abroad, civic engagement, and a living and learning environment in which renewable energy and the built environment can contribute to responsible stewardship of the environment.
The word sustain refers both to how the University of Minnesota, Morris maintains its capacity to provide education as well as to how the education provided enables students to maintain an ability to function as active, informed citizens in a rapidly changing world. Morris must have the physical and financial resources, as well as the personnel to carry out its mission. As a public institution, Morris must also support and encourage our local and national relationships. In addition, it must hold on to core values and functions that remain central to a liberal arts education even if they do not correspond to the “flavor-of-the-day.” Regular assessment of programs and activities will inform decisions about which activities and functions to sustain.
A liberal arts education is sustaining. In a concrete sense, it provides skills and knowledge needed to land a job or to enter professional or graduate school. At the same time, a liberal arts education provides intellectual sustenance or “nourishment”—a foundation (habits of heart and mind) for learning (exploration and discovery) that is lifelong. A University of Minnesota, Morris liberal arts education builds on the Morris legacy, on traditions that are valued and valuable even as it re-imagines and reinvents that legacy for the present and the future.
We teach we inquire we research we learn we apply we lead. Members of the University of Minnesota, Morris community aren’t content to sit on the sidelines and watch. As individuals we hold and express opinions we think and act critically we uncover and disclose the principles that under-gird our actions we take risks. Our faculty members lead in their fields. Our students experience multiple opportunities for leadership and public engagement in and out of the classroom. Faculty, staff, and students take on leadership roles on campus and in the University. These individual traits of thoughtful and bold leadership translate into our institutional persona—as a public, liberal arts institution, we lead in terms of academic excellence and access. Our institution leads by modeling good practices and participating in its various communities, local, national, and global. We also lead in terms of our mission—a living and learning community that fosters civic engagement intercultural competence global citizenship and environmental stewardship.
Expected Results and Outcomes
As a result of this special emphasis, we expect to stimulate fresh discussions on campus about the meaning of liberal arts education in the 21st century and to create a stronger shared vision for how we put that meaning into practice both inside and outside the curriculum. We will evaluate how well we are living the liberal arts through the four actions—explore, renew, sustain, and lead—as described above. Finally, we expect the self-study process to result in recommendations that will improve our practice of the liberal arts on campus and enable us to better communicate the meaning of liberal arts to our constituencies.