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

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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General Education Reform and the Art of Listening

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 12 Comments

By the time we took the stage as the final panel of the day, we had heard the voices of expert educators, faculty, administrators, employers and alums speak about the value and importance of general education. Now it was our turn.

But this panel was to be reversed, with panelists asking questions of the audience and listening attentively in response.

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