Pittsburgh Bridges 2009

AGLS Keynote – Practicing the Arts of Liberty

By | Presentation: Academic, The Liberal Arts, Vita | One Comment

At the heart of my keynote address to the 2018 Association of General and Liberal Studies in Pittsburgh, PA is this idea:

The intellectual and ethical habits we need to transform higher education are the same as those we need to cultivate in our students if they are to thrive in the dynamic, interconnected world into which they will graduate.

To cultivate these intellectual and ethical habits in our students, however, we need to learn and embody them ourselves. Here again, I emphasize the central importance of a commitment to performative consistency that has shaped my scholarship and administrative life for years. 

Performative consistency involves enacting the values for which we advocate.  

In The Price of the Ticket,1 James Baldwin puts it succinctly:

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.

To live up to this insistence on performative consistency requires intentional practice, humility, and vulnerability — characteristics not usually associated with the culture of higher education. 

But this culture must change.

Our attempts to elevate and champion the central importance general education and the liberal arts must themselves be animated by intellectual and ethical habits that enable us to put our freedom into practice in ways that enrich the world. 

Core Habits of the Arts of Liberty

To speak of the “arts of liberty” is to recognize that freedom is an activity that can be practiced well or badly.2 When practiced well, freedom expands, enriching the life of the community in which its members are empowered to live intentional, fulfilling lives. When practice poorly, freedom contracts, impoverishing our relationships with one another, and tearing the fabric of community.

In the presentation, I identify three core habits of the arts of liberty that enable us to practice freedom well.

  • Attentive listening: the capacity to be present to another in ways that are attuned and responsive to their experience; 
  • Ethical imagination: the cultivated habit of imagining one’s way into the life of another in order to open new possibilities of a more just future;  
  • Critical discernment: the capacity to recognize the limits of our relationships with one another and to hold ourselves accountable to the values we hold most dear.

In her forthcoming book, Generous Thinking,3 Kathleen Fitzpatrick speaks about the need to cultivate a “listening presence” and “critical humility” in ways that resonate with and deepen the account of the core habits of the arts of liberty that might enable us to educate and become more ethically imaginative citizens. 

Ethically Imaginative Citizenship

In her 2018 keynote address to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Nancy Cantor enjoins us to re-imagine the future “with an eye toward cultivating empathetic citizenship.”4 She convincingly argues that we in higher education must create spaces for students and scholars to engage in democratic dialogue with a broader public so that we might shape the public good.

Empathy, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for ethical imagination. Empathy involves the ability to share the feelings of another, but ethical imagination is a cultivated habit of character capable of imagining new possibilities for more just relationships based upon empathy, a “listening presence,” and “critical humility.”

These are the habits a new general education curriculum must embody, and they are the habits we ourselves must learn to put into intentional practice everyday in every encounter we have. 

Live-Tweets of the #AGLS18 Keynote Practicing the Arts of Liberty

Tree Roots

Cultivating a Culture of Trust

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts | No Comments

It has been difficult to write for the public in the months since posting the Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters in the wake of the survivor impact statements that are transforming Michigan State University.1 Part of the difficulty is what my thoughtful #SpartanDean colleague, Prabu David, emphasized when he wrote that it is challenging to find the right words for our current situation. But also, it has been difficult to convey to a broader public the intense interpersonal work we are doing in the College to create the culture change we need.

At our Fall 2017 faculty meeting, we focused on attentive listening, critical discernment, and ethical imagination as the core habits of the liberal arts education we seek to weave into the fabric of the University. Over the last few months, we have sought to put these habits into more intentional practice as we begin to imagine a way forward in response to what has happened here at Michigan State.

The commitments my Dean colleagues made to one another in our January 2018 letter to the Board of Trustees articulates the values that must shape this response. We said we would …

“foster and protect a culture that is transparent, open, trusting, and safe;”

“continuously cultivate leadership through caring and accountability;”

“empower everyone to be fully engaged in a community that is inclusive and equitable.”

These are the values I have always sought to put into practice as an academic leader. Yet, in reflecting upon what has happened here and during my time as a faculty member and administrator at Penn State, I am more aware than ever of the chasm that exists between the commitments for which we stand and the reality we experience. Where the culture of higher education should be caring, accountable, and equitable, it is too often self-centered, domineering, and unjust. And worse, the mechanisms by which we measure and reward individuals and institutions too often reinforce a toxic culture that erodes trust and impoverishes our work together.

This must change, and enacting that change is the long and difficult work ahead.

That work begins with critical self-reflection and ethical candor. It takes time and requires us to resist the temptation to put the difficult truths we are facing behind us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize in the trauma of the moment the unsettling of unjust and inequitable structures that must be interrogated and redressed.

This requires each of us who has some power to effect change — whether you are a student or a member of the staff, a professor, an alum, or an administrator — to put your effort, your influence, and your weight on the side of creating a more trusting and just academic community.

My #SpartanDean colleague, Ron Hendrick, put it this way at his 2018 Agriculture and Natural Resources Luncheon address:

“…it won’t matter how good we are here at MSU, if you are not willing and able to use your position, privilege, and power to make a difference for others as well.

These connections represent our better selves — when we acknowledge them, we are more vulnerable, uncertain, unsure.

More importantly, though, we are more authentic, genuine, and real.”

When we commit ourselves in our daily interactions with one another to being more vulnerable and more genuine, we nourish the roots of a culture of trust.

Over the past few months, I have seen a commitment to candor break calcified habits of distrust in a program meeting; I have heard our staff speak honestly about the corrosive effects of micro-aggression and implicit bias; I have witnessed a group of angry and disappointed alumni support one another and refocus their attention on the core academic mission of the University; I have admired the courage of our undergraduate and graduate students as they advocate for the just community they expect and deserve; and I have felt my own willingness to acknowledge failure open new possibilities for more trusting relationships with my colleagues.

This is the work we must now undertake if we are to cultivate a culture of trust at the heart of our academic community. Let practices of care, accountability, and equity empower us to use our position and privilege to support our colleagues — students, staff, faculty, and alumni — in their efforts to make meaningful contributions to this fragile and broken world.

The Liberal Arts Endeavor: A New General Education

By | Journal of General Education, The Liberal Arts, Vita | No Comments

In the introduction to volume 65, issues 3-4 of the Journal for General Education, I draw on insights from Cathy Davidson’s book, The New Education, to argue for a New General Education, one that is more holistic and responsive to the complex, interconnected world into which our students are graduating.

The article is openly accessible, and I have uploaded it to the CORE repository on Humanities Commons: The Liberal Arts Endeavor: A New General Education.

Practices of Weaving: Arts & Letters at MSU

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 4 Comments

Late last month, the faculty on the College Advisory Council (CAC) gave me a writing assignment. In preparation for our Fall 2017 faculty meeting on November 17, they asked me to take a step back from the updates on priorities, imperatives, and initiatives that have occupied our more recent faculty meetings, to articulate a broader vision of the College of Arts & Letters in the 21st century mission of Michigan State University.

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To the Class of 2021: Be Resilient, Like a Tree

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Undergraduate Experience | One Comment

Dear College of Arts & Letters Class of 2021,

Welcome to Michigan State University!

As you embark on the adventure of discovery and growth that is a liberal arts education in the College of Arts & Letters here at Michigan State University, I invite you to consider for a moment what we might learn from a peculiar tree you will encounter on campus.

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The Liberal Arts at the Heart of the MSU Land Grant Mission

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts | One Comment

When Ryan Kilcoyne and I met late last year to plan the 2017 MSU College of Arts & Letters Dean’s Report, we wanted to show what we have long talked about: situating the liberal arts endeavor at the center of the 21st-century land grant mission is a powerful catalyst for transformative change in the world.

In fact, a commitment to the liberal arts shaped the university itself at a decisive moment in its history. Read More

To Teach and Delight

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

The last two weeks of March this year brought sadness twice over to the College of Arts & Letters. On March 18, 2017, we lost Anna Norris, a beloved professor of French Literature who taught at Michigan State University for 18 years. On March 30, 2017, we lost Jim Seaton, an eloquent advocate for the humanities who taught English Literature and Criticism here for more than 45 years. Read More

The Liberal Arts Endeavor: The Arts of Liberty in a Time of Uncertainty

By | Journal of General Education, Publication: Journal, The Liberal Arts, Vita | No Comments

“The Liberal Arts Endeavor: The Arts of Liberty in a Time of Uncertainty.” Journal of General Education, 65, 2 (2017), v-vi.

Even if, as Hannah Arendt suggests, “we are always educating for a world that is or is becoming out of joint,” 1 our commitment to general education as “a distinctive cornerstone of the arts of liberty” gains urgency in times of uncertainty.

Although we often think of liberty as a basic right bestowed upon us, it is more fundamentally an activity rooted in the human ability to begin anew. As an activity, liberty can be practiced well or poorly. Practiced well, the arts of liberty enrich our communities, enliven our connection with the natural world, and advance the cause of social justice. Practiced poorly, the arts of liberty diminish us, impoverish our relationships, and destroy the environment on which life depends. Read More

“…No Arts; No Letters; No Society…”

By | Education, Politics, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

In early November last year, I returned to the Leviathan.

In it, Thomas Hobbes grapples with the question of sovereignty and considers the human condition in a state of nature in which there is:

…no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (Leviathan, XIII)

In returning to Hobbes, we gain purchase on a future that only now begins to dawn as we in these United States consider abandoning completely our public support of the arts and letters upon which our very commonwealth depends.

There will be, I am confident, plenty of posts about the many initiatives funded by the NEH and NEA that have transformed the lives of communities across the country, and further, important advice about how one might effectively advocate for continuing and augmenting our shared financial commitments to both.

But the passage from Hobbes provokes a different set of considerations. It requires us to think about what a total renunciation of the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities says about who we are and what we aspire to be.

Washington Post, March 16, 2017

The passage from Hobbes suggests not simply that the arts and letters enhance social and political life, but that they are the very markers of the existence of a society. When we as a community say: we will no longer support the arts and humanities as a common good for which we are all responsible, we are saying: we are no longer a community, and there is no good toward which we might orient our lives.

The issue here is not whether the arts and humanities can or will be supported by other means, which they surely will, nor whether they have practical or economic value, which they surely do.

Rather, at issue is what happens when a community repudiates its deepest self?

We ought to pause a moment to consider this question before we make the decision to withdraw public funding from those core activities that make us who we are.

What is important here is not simply that the arts and humanities are funded, but that they are publicly funded because we as a community have made a collective decision to invest in ourselves and in a more just and meaningful future we might yet imagine.

For in the end, without the arts, without the humanities, there is no shared future; there is no society at all, but rather, a collection of increasingly isolated individuals for whom life has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Open Letter on the Executive Order on Immigration

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts | No Comments

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff in the College of Arts & Letters:

Many of you have written to express your concern about the executive order signed by the President of the United States on January 27, 2017, that bars Syrian refugees and blocks citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

We have students and faculty scholars here now from countries identified in this executive order. Each one of you enriches our community and advances our academic mission. We will do everything in our power to ensure that you are safe, supported, and empowered to be successful.

The College of Arts & Letters is committed to putting the arts of liberty into practice in our relationships with one another and in the ways we pursue our scholarship, teaching, and learning. At Michigan State University, the liberal arts are rooted in the three core values of our world-grant mission: quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity. As President Simon has emphasized, the January 27th executive order is a threat to each.

What impedes the free flow of people and ideas, impoverishes the quality of the education we offer and receive.

What destroys our respect for differences, diminishes our capacities to connect across cultures to address the deepest challenges we face.

What prevents us from traveling abroad and welcoming newcomers to campus, perverts our ability to include the most talented people, whatever their background, religion, or country of origin, in a vibrant and open community capable of creating a more just and beautiful world.

As I considered how best to respond in this situation, I turned to my colleague Mohammad Khalil, who pointed me to a passage from the 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. In a single sentence,1 Rūmī captures something of the spirit of a world-grant university committed to putting the arts of liberty into practice.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

May these words be for you what they have been for me: a reminder in a time of uncertainty that our deepest values only have impact when we find the courage to put them into action.

Sincerely,

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Between Beginning and Routine

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

With the new year comes the deluge of resolutions. This ritual of new beginnings affords us an opportunity to begin anew, for, as the ancient proverb reminds us, “well begun is half done.”1

Of course, now that we are 15 days into 2017 and the new semester is upon us, old habits reassert themselves as the hopefulness of the beginning settles into the rhythm of routine.

Let us linger for a moment here where old habits have not yet become dominant and the possibilities of a different future remain open. This is the place where we might deepen our commitment to cultivate the aptitude to focus intentionally on strategic priorities.

A poignant question haunts this place.

Perhaps you too can hear it if you pause a moment to listen:

Are you focusing your energy, time, and effort on what will enrich your life and the life we share with others?

As a husband, father, scholar, and dean — always in that order of priority, I try to attend to this question at the beginning of each day, before everyone wakes up, and the day’s work is upon me.

The question itself is a little tricky, because so much depends on how we understand and define what “enriching” means. It is, of course, different for different people, and in different contexts, it will adjust itself accordingly. Yet, what abides is an orientation toward creating a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The question that haunts this place and the orientation it engenders are at the very heart of the liberal arts endeavor.

As a Dean, I want this question and orientation to permeate all levels of the College of Arts & Letters so that each decision we make to focus our attention on a given initiative is strategically integrated into a holistic vision of how to enrich the world we share.

Cultivating mindful habits of strategic decision making requires discipline and imagination, both of which are at home here where the beginning remains fresh and routine insistent. Discipline huddles over there where routine enables us to hold ourselves accountable to our values. Imagination, for its part, settles next to the beginning itself so it remains alive to new possibilities that might empower us to nudge the world toward a more just tomorrow.

So, as we settle into this space of incipient regularity where the possibilities of beginning waken to the rhythms that sustain us, let’s pause to consider the priorities on which we will focus our attention this year and how they are integrated into a holistic vision oriented toward advancing the mission of the College and the University to enrich the world we’ve inherited.

* * *

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

Situated where digital theory and practice intersect with urgent questions of social justice and human difference, the Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative animates a hiring strategy designed to attract and retain creative, collaborative leaders who think synthetically about scholarship, teaching, and the creative endeavor. Our aim is to advance the recognized strengths of Michigan State University in the digital arts and humanities through a focus on questions of race, inclusion, cultural preservation, global interconnectedness, and engaged scholarship.

School of Languages

In an effort to advance the world-grant mission of Michigan State University, faculty in the College of Arts & Letters are creating a school of languages that will enhance collaboration across the languages to compete for more prestigious external funding, develop innovative approaches to language teaching and scholarship, and deepen our knowledge of other cultures and literatures to address the most complex challenges of our interconnected world.

Center for Interdisciplinarity

Many universities celebrate the importance of interdisciplinary work, few ground their interdisciplinary practices in a deep understanding of the nature of interdisciplinarity itself. The Center for Interdisciplinarity will do just this by recruiting and supporting world-class faculty with expertise in the theory and practices of interdisciplinarity, by training graduate students from across the university to do interdisciplinary research well, and by enhancing the broader impact statements of major university grants.

The Citizen Scholars Program

Designed to prepare the next generation of diverse, high-achieving, and engaged citizen leaders, the Citizens Scholars program encourages students to aspire to greater academic achievement while gaining experience in high-impact learning environments. Successful aspirants are admitted into the Citizen Scholars program and provided with $5,000 in financial assistance for study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, or other transformative educational experiences that position them to meet extra requirements and to perform at a higher level.

Excel Network

The Excel Network is an emerging initiative that takes a holistic and integrated approach to experiential education, career and professional development, and alumni relations in order to empower our students to chart a successful path from college to the world of meaningful work.

 * * *

Intentional focus on these five strategic priorities requires us to return to them regularly to ensure that the new possibilities they embody are integrated into the daily routines that will sustain them. Here, where the rhythms of routine remain alive to the novelty of the new year, let us recommit ourselves to putting the arts of liberty into practice in ways that enrich our relationships with one another and create a more just and beautiful world.

Putting the Liberal Arts into Action

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Sometimes in our efforts to advocate for the importance of a liberal arts education, we fail to demonstrate what it means to put the arts of liberty into practice.

It’s easier to speak about the values of critical thinking, ethical imagination, excellent communication, and global interconnection than it is to show their transformative power in action. And yet, the ultimate value of a liberal arts education lies in its capacity to enable us to practice freedom well.

Although most of us think of liberty as a basic right bestowed upon us, it is more fundamentally an activity that can be practiced well or poorly. Practiced well, the arts of liberty enrich our communities and enliven our connection with the natural world we share. Practiced poorly, the arts of liberty diminish us, impoverish our relationships, and destroy the environment on which life depends.

This too, of course, is too abstract.

Yet, this shift of focus from abstract values to practiced activities is important, because it enables us to hold ourselves accountable to deeper questions about what precisely is enriching and for whom. It requires us to consider in concrete terms precisely how we put the values of a liberal arts education into action.

Do the initiatives we seek to advance in the College of Arts & Letters enable us to practice liberty well? Do our academic, research, and outreach programs deepen our engagement with the world and enrich the lives of those we encounter here?

Though there remains always more work to be done — the arts of liberty take a lifetime to cultivate — there are heartening signs.

Anthony Hatinger puts his innovative understanding of horticulture, creativity, and ethical imagination into practice through his work at the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation by providing a sustainable source of food and jobs for the North Central Woodward community in Detroit.

Theatre major Ryan Duda performs the arts of liberty by enriching the lives of special needs actors through the 4th Wall Theatre Company, where they learn to play and improvise and find pathways to unforeseen connections.

Through research that explores the intersections of race, class, language, writing, and equity, Shenika Hankerson empowers African American adolescents and young adults to develop confidence in their writing and in their ability to shape meaningful lives.

Anthony, Ryan and Shenika embody what it means to practice the arts of liberty well.

They are models of the liberal arts in action, and they inspire us to ask more of ourselves and of the educational initiatives we are advancing in the College of Arts & Letters.

Here too, there are heartening signs of inchoate programs designed to empower more students and faculty to practice the arts of liberty well.

Our innovative new Citizen Scholars program challenges Arts & Letters students to perform their way into a prestigious program designed to cultivate capacities for Global Leadership, Professional Networking, Research and Creative Activity, and Civic Engagement.

Our emerging Excel Network will provide support to students as they chart a path from college to the world of meaningful work through the College’s new experiential learning requirement and the professional career communities we are cultivating.

And as we continue to consider new ways to engage the broader community in the practices of liberty, we need to remain attentive to all the strategic initiatives in the College of Arts & Letters to ensure they are doing what we ask of them: cultivating in each of us the capacities we need to practice the arts of liberty well.

Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

We in the College of Arts & Letters seek to advance the core values of Michigan State University — quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity — by practicing inclusion as a matter of institutional habit.

As a result, our students, faculty, and staff, are well positioned in moments of uncertainty to respond with ethical imagination, an abiding commitment to social justice, and capacities for critique capable of enriching the public life we share.

First, to our students, know that we support you, that there are resources here to help you make sense of the recent election, that your voices are important, and that putting your commitments into practice is what it means to be an engaged citizen. Know too that in choosing an education in the arts and humanities, you have already demonstrated a commitment to pursue a meaningful life in community with others. With that commitment, you remind us all of the enduring capacity of a liberal arts education to create a more just and inclusive world over time.

Indeed, the ideals of the liberal arts are not abstract. They depend on cultivating capacities to communicate with eloquence, to embrace diversity with grace, to perceive globally with ethical imagination, and to respond to complexity critically and with nuance. These capacities can only be developed when we put them into practice everyday in the ways we respond to one another. This is how they become woven into the fabric of our community.

As faculty and staff, we bring to the current moment a depth of experience with and scholarship on structural inequities, human suffering, alienation, anxiety, and the power of language and art to create meaningful connection and more just communities. Our skills of engagement, broad historical perspectives, and perhaps most importantly, our capacities to attend carefully and caringly to the concerns of our students will empower them to bring their best selves and deepest convictions to the current situation.

The capacity of an education in the liberal arts to enrich our relationships with one another and to deepen our understanding of the human condition is unparalleled.

Let us draw deeply upon it here at Michigan State University as we work together to create a more just, inclusive, and caring civic life.

Sincerely,
Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Responding to Complexity with Nuance and Grace

By | Politics, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

In the wake of last week’s violence, we have again become caught up in the fraught dichotomy into which public discourse always seems to force us. It is as if somehow the human capacity to hold complex thoughts consistently together dissolves the moment ideas enter the public sphere.

The heartbreaking killings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana require us to face the pathological pattern of violence white police officers continue to perpetrate on fellow African American citizens even as we mourn and denounce the assassination of police officers in Dallas.

The situation, our situation today in the United States, demands something difficult of us. It requires us to come to terms with the long and abiding history of racism that was woven into the fabric of the American experience long before it was ratified and legitimized in the texts of our founding documents.

There is no short term solution for this endemic racism and injustice. But there is a longer, more difficult path on which we might embark that will, over time, enable us to create a more just and a more perfect union.

It is the path of a certain kind of education, a liberal arts education deeply attuned to the fraught and broken world we share yet committed to cultural engagement and social justice.

A culturally engaged liberal arts education facilitates the capacity of citizens to respond to complexity with nuance and grace, and it deepens our shared commitment to make the world a better, more just, place.

Nuance is vital, because it involves the ability to discern the texture of a situation, to recognize how history saturates the present, how the contours of experience and identity and interest intersect, playing themselves out in our interactions and through our institutions. Grace, however, it’s vital too, because it empowers us to navigate our relationships with one another elegantly, that is, in ways that affirm and honor the experiences of others so that we might begin to move together toward a justice broader and more enduring than our finite selves.

These capacities for nuance and grace, however, remain impotent unless they are enlivened by an intentional choice to weave a commitment to justice into our relationships with one another.

The sort of liberal arts education we are seeking to cultivate in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University is grounded in the belief that our deepest divisions, our most enduring social and political challenges, can only be redressed by a citizenry capable of and committed to pursuing justice with nuance and grace.

Ours is a vision of the liberal arts endeavor deeply rooted in the University’s mission to transform the lives of our students and improve the life of our shared body politic.

To begin to put this vision of a culturally engaged liberal arts education animated by a commitment to justice into practice, we must redress our collective failure to educate a more diverse generation of faculty. This is why we have focused significant attention on graduate education, and specifically, on recruiting graduate students like Shenika Hankerson, who brings her rich understanding of cultural practices to her research in ways that cultivate an appreciation of and respect for difference.

An education in the liberal arts is an education in the art of the possible. In the wake of the events of the past week, in the wake of the long history of racism this country continues to endure, it is all too easy to remain pinned like butterflies, as James Baldwin put it.

The harder path is the longer road we embark upon whenever we take up the liberal arts endeavor and seek the justice that is possible despite the very real injustices we continue so poignantly to encounter.


Cross posted on Medium:

View story at Medium.com

Tweeting the Liberal Arts @Muhlenberg #MCLA16

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentations, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, Vita | 2 Comments

In his inaugural address as president of the college he founded, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg spoke of the values that animate the institution: “We do not regard an education as complete that aims only at improving the intellect,” he said, and goes on to emphasize that Muhlenberg is an institution that “contemplates the education of [one’s] conscience and the cultivation of [one’s] heart.”

This commitment to a complete education, one that includes the cultivation of intellectual and ethical habits of thinking and acting, is at the heart of a liberal arts education. Even as the liberal arts come under attack from wide range of voices across the American political spectrum, we do well to remember that this commitment to educate the whole person is deeply rooted in the history of American higher education and has long been a source of innovation and growth.

In the wake of new, dynamic modes of digital communication made possible by the creation of the world-wide web in 1989, this commitment to educating the whole person and the need to bring the excellences of the liberal arts to our interactions with one another have never been more important.

The technologies associated with the web have now grown so familiar and become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget how new they are and how young we are with them. We are still learning what we can do with them and what they are doing with us.

Technologies always work both ways.

Their affordances and limitations can best be discerned by putting them into practice; for by using the technologies and being used by them, we come to better understand the possibilities they open for us and the challenges they present.

My visit to Muhlenberg is informed by a commitment to put the technologies of digital communication into a liberal arts practice in order to open a space to reflect upon how they might enrich and impoverish our relationships with one another.

The education of conscience to which Muhlenberg calls us is a task to be taken up anew each day; it involves a commitment to weave a concern for justice into our interactions with one another be they online or in person.

Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media

Drawing on my experience with public writing in an Ancient Philosophy course, this faculty workshop focuses on the pedagogical affordances and limitations of public writing in digital environments. The discussion will circle around questions raised by my article, Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media: Cooperative Education through Blogging and Podcasting.

Of central importance to the design of that course was the scoring rubric used to cultivate the habits and practices of public writing on the co-authored blog. I share it here so that it can be freely adapted as needed.

Tweeting the Liberal Arts @Muhlenberg #MCLA16

Below are the curated posts from the interactive presentation held at Muhlenberg on February 1, 2016 at 8pm.

 

A Liberal Arts Response to #Ferguson

By | Education, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 3 Comments

The liberal arts have always given us powerful ways to study and understand the world we inhabit. The events in Ferguson call for a liberal arts approach because they are multidimensional. They require us to think critically, understand historically, analyze soberly, and respond ethically. This is what the liberal arts do, and it is what we hope to empower our students to do in this course.

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The Liberal Arts and Sciences and the 21st Century Land Grant Mission

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

At the beginning of the Physics, Aristotle captures something of the essence of the liberal arts and sciences as an endeavor. This path from the surface of things to a deeper understanding of their nature is the common root of all disciplines in the liberal arts and sciences; it is the passage from a superficial encounter with the environment to a more substantive engagement with the complexity of the world we inhabit.

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Beginning Anew with #PSUGenEd

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

At the Penn State General Education Spring 2014 retreat, we decided to begin anew with GenEd as we try to find ways to feasibly adopt a curriculum that would be animated by substantive integrative learning outcomes. At the retreat, we ripped up the planned agenda, and started thinking anew about how to create a curriculum worthy of our Penn State students.

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General Education Reform at Penn State

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | One Comment

The Information Technology unit at Penn State holds IT Matters breakfasts a few times a year. This semester I joined colleagues on stage to talk about my work and how it intersects with IT at Penn State.

Because we have partnered with Brad Koslek and the TLT Studio to create a dynamic online space of dialogue and conversation about General Education reform at Penn State, they asked me about the PSUGenEd reform process. My 4 minute riff on GenEd, its importance, and how we are trying to change it at Penn State is embedded below.

Our partnership with the TLT Studio has gone some distance in modeling a way of using digital media to cultivate community around an important education reform issue. Because Penn State is a single university geographically dispersed, the GenEd Matters site has become a kind of marketplace of ideas and information about the GenEd reform process. We have sought to include a wide public in these conversations and, as a result, we have received an enormous amount of very helpful feedback on the process and suggestions for the emerging curriculum.

The site is continually being updated, its functionality improved even as we use it to engage in conversation. It’s a little like rebuilding the ship of Theseus as we sail it. Still, it is an intensely collaborative endeavor as we think about how design impacts discussion and how transformative reform can be undertaken in and with a thoughtful public.

You are invited to watch the video and join the conversation.

#PSUGenEd and the Research Endeavor

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

We at Penn State are engaged in an intense, ongoing and, in my view, very healthy dialogue about General Education reform.

In order to integrate the research endeavor into the undergraduate experience, we ought to more intentionally engage leaders of our university institutes and college centers as we develop coordinated clusters of courses around specific research themes.

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Music, Philosophy and the Liberal Arts

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 4 Comments

On the day he was to die, we find Socrates writing poetry.

This is very strange because Socrates generally chose not to write, opting instead to engage in dialogue with those he encountered in and around Athens. But he has been haunted by certain dreams which, here at the end, he wonders if he has interpreted properly.

These recurring dreams told him: “Socrates, produce and practice music.” (Plato, Phaedo, 60e6-7.)

He had always taken this as an exhortation to practice philosophy which, he says, “is the highest kind of music.” (Phaedo, 61a3-4)

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Beginning Again with the Liberal Arts

By | Education, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 4 Comments

The rhythm of the academic year returns us again to the beginning.

State College is charged with energy as parents drop off their children, some for the first time, and students turn and return to a course of study that will transform their lives.

This year, as in past years, I find myself thinking about how to address over 700 incoming freshman in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State. I hope to encourage them to take an active role in their own education.

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Open Letter to the Liberal Arts Undergraduates at Penn State

By | The Liberal Arts | No Comments

Dear Liberal Arts Student Colleagues:

As we process the events of the past week, it is difficult to grapple with what we and others are thinking and feeling. Each of us responds to these events from where we live, from our perspectives as individuals and as members of an educational community to which we have dedicated our time, our energy, our lives.

As students in the liberal arts, you have many resources to bring to bear on these difficult experiences. As humanists, you know something of the finite nature of human existence, of the complex and often tragic nature of human relationships, and of the healing power of words well placed; as social scientists, you know something about the role power plays in social interactions, the nature of psychological and physical trauma, and the intricacies of healthy human communities. I ask you to bring to bear on this difficult situation the wisdom of your disciplines, the power of your learning and the depth of your commitment to your friends, your teachers and your institution.

As we try to come to some terms with this experience in all its complexity, I hope we find ways to notice the beautiful and good things that are done at Penn State everyday even as we face the things we must as we learn more about what happened. Your good academic work, your integrity as students and your well placed energy contribute to what is valuable about Penn State.

Thank you.

If you or any of your colleagues need to talk with a professional counsellor, please don’t hesitate to call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 814-863-0395 or go online at: http://www.sa.psu.edu/caps/schedule_appointment.shtml

For emergencies: http://www.sa.psu.edu/caps/crisis.shtml

Once, in the course of my own education in the liberal arts, I came across a passage from Rilke. My wife reminded me of it last night and it seems to be helping me at the moment; perhaps it might be of some help to you today:

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

Sincerely,
Christopher Long

Christopher P. Long
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics
College of the Liberal Arts
The Pennsylvania State University
http://www.la.psu.edu/chrislong