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Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. A National Conference co-sponsored by: Clark University - Challenge Convention Change Our World

Association of American Colleges and Universities

Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise

For more information on the sponsors, click on the logos.

March 12-13, 2009


Conference Goals

  1. To advance an enriched conception of liberal education that promotes both intellectual mastery in the traditional academic disciplines and skills as well as the capacity for effective and constructive action in the world by creating new knowledge and applying knowledge to address practical challenges and solve important problems.
  2. To identify specific ways in which this enriched version of liberal education can be implemented within a baccalaureate-level program, especially but not exclusively at urban and metropolitan universities, drawing on models associated with recent trends in undergraduate research, experiential education and interdisciplinary, problem-focused programming.
  3. To identify the administrative, structural, policy, budgetary and cultural issues associated with embedding this enriched version of liberal education in an institution's educational program, not as an isolated experience associated with particular courses or majors, but as an intrinsic part of the experience of all students.
  4. To explore the implications of this enriched version of liberal education for the learning experiences and overall development of students from diverse backgrounds.

Character of the Conference

The conference was invitational and involved approximately 30 educational experts and corporate and nonprofit leaders who came together to identify the most promising models of the enriched version of liberal education to which we aspire. The event was kept small in order to facilitate maximum exchange of views and discussion among the participants. Four papers and a panel on various aspects of the link between liberal education and effective practice were commissioned for presentation. Papers were circulated in advance to all participants. Each of the papers provided the basis for one of the conference's working sessions. At these sessions, there was a summary presentation of each paper by the author(s), after which two other conference members offered their reactions to the paper and thoughts on the paper's topic; about half of each session was devoted to general discussion with the intention of finding as much common ground as possible with respect to the issues under consideration. A final working session was devoted to pulling together observations and conclusions from the five sessions.

The ultimate goal of the conference was to achieve a shared understanding of why it is important to build undergraduate programs that link liberal education and effective practice, what the characteristics of such programs might entail, and how most usefully to approach the development of such programs at the campus level. Our hope was to advance the national discussion of these questions by disseminating information and materials related to the conference through the Web and print outlets of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), both before and after the event. In addition, we intend to use both the commissioned papers and our discussion of them as the basis for a publication, which will be released and widely circulated as soon as possible following the conference.

Partnership between Clark and the AAC&U

Clark and the AAC&U joined forces to organize this conference because of a shared interest in providing students enrolled in programs of liberal education with learning experiences that foster the ability for effective action and practice. As a university with a focus on the liberal arts and sciences at the undergraduate level, Clark initiated and supported planning for this conference to encourage a national discussion about how liberal education might be strengthened. Enriching liberal education to include an emphasis on effective practice is also one of the goals of the AAC&U's LEAP Initiative (Liberal Education and America's Promise), which is advancing a contemporary notion of liberal learning appropriate for students majoring in either arts and sciences disciplines or in professional fields.

Topics, Authors and Discussants for Commissioned Papers

Intelligence and Effective Practice

Robert Sternberg
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Psychology Professor, Tufts University

Sternberg's paper addresses some of the foundational questions posed by the conference: Why is there such a weak correlation between success as a student in a traditional academic setting and success in the world of action and practice in later life? What exactly do we mean by the “capacity for effective action in the world”? Can we identify a specific taxonomy of skills and abilities associated with effective practice? Can we create learning experiences that foster these skills and abilities, and can we assess the development of these capacities in our students? The paper summarizes the scholarly literature related to these questions, including a comparison of the qualities associated with effective practice and those that are valued and nurtured in traditional programs of liberal education, and offers the author's perspective based on many years of research.


Nancy Budwig, Associate Provost, Dean for Graduate Studies and Research and Psychology Professor, Clark University

Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation

Effective Practice and Self-Authorship

David Hodge
President, Miami University

Marcia Baxter Magolda
Distinguished Professor in the School of Education, Health and Society at Miami University

Carolyn Haynes
Director of the Honors Program, Miami University

The Hodge, Baxter Magolda, Haynes paper considers the relationship between self-authorship—the internal capacity to determine one's beliefs, identity and social relations—and the capacity for effective action and practice in both academic and nonacademic settings. The authors present findings demonstrating that self-authorship is a necessary developmental capacity for the intellectual initiative and autonomy and creative problem solving that we associate with scholarly work. They also discuss the limitations of traditional arts and sciences curricular structures for promoting the capacity for complex intellectual work, and they will outline a pedagogical model indicating how a series of carefully structured learning experiences can move a student from intellectual dependence on external authority to self-authorship to support self-directed intellectual work.


Lori Bettison-Varga, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Whitman College; past President, Council on Undergraduate Research

Phil Nyden, Sociology Professor and Director of the Center for Urban Learning and Research at Loyola University, Chicago

Effective Practice and Experiential Education

Janet Eyler
Professor of the Practice of Education and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University

Eyler's paper examines the ways in which practical experience in the form of internships, service-learning activities and cooperative education placements can help students develop the ability to translate ideas and values into effective action in nonacademic settings and to solve real-world problems. The paper stresses the cognitive benefits of experiential education as well as the importance of embedding off-campus work within curricular structures and providing students with opportunities to reflect systematically on what they have learned from their experiences about themselves, their classroom studies and the challenges of real-world action.


Ira Harkavy, Associate Vice President and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnership, University of Pennsylvania.

James Stellar, Psychology Professor and former Dean of Arts and Sciences, Northeastern University

A Liberal Arts Curriculum for Effective Practice

Diana Chapman Walsh
President Emerita, Wellesley College

Lee Cuba
Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College

The Walsh, Cuba paper focuses on the overall shape of a liberal education that accomplishes all the things traditionally associated with the arts and sciences, and also adds dimensions intended specifically to foster the capacity for effective practice. A goal of this paper is to identify existing models of programs at specific institutions that appear to be effective in promoting the skills and abilities with which we are concerned. The authors also suggest what an ideal model might look like even if a perfect example of this model does not yet exist. Finally, the authors comment on a number of institutional issues associated with the implementation of the kinds of curricular changes that the model requires: (a) infrastructure needed to support the various programmatic innovations and costs associated with that infrastructure; (b) politics of moving a curriculum in this direction in terms of faculty attitudes, compatibility with faculty scholarship and teaching interests, and faculty workload; (c) challenges associated with developing the needed partnerships with other institutions to provide settings/vehicles for student work and projects associated with these curricular innovations.


Martin Jischke, President Emeritus, Purdue University

Liberal Education, Effective Practice, and Diversity

This session was based on three presentations that focused on the relationship between liberal education, effective practice and diversity from different perspectives. George Kuh presented data indicating that the educational benefits of "high impact" learning experiences (such as experimental education and undergraduate research), which are significant for all students, are often greater for students from underserved and minority backgrounds than for their majority counterparts. Amando Bengochea discussed the ways in which an emphasis on effective practice can enhance the educational experiences of students of color within a liberal arts curriculum. Steve Stemler reported on research showing that including practice-oriented criteria in assessments of student achievements and capabilities can assist colleges and universities in identifying and educating minority students with high potential to succeed both in college and beyond college.


Armando Bengochea, Dean of the College Community, Connecticut College

George Kuh, Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education and Director, Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University Bloomington

Steven Stemler, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Wesleyan University

Dinner Speaker

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann
Bard Center Distinguished Fellow, Bard College at Simon's Rock
Charles Warren Professor of the History of Education, Harvard University (on leave)

Lagemann reflected on the historical forces that have produced the currently dominant version of liberal education and commented on the possibilities of building links between liberal education and effective practice in the current environment of higher education.

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