Transforming Liberal Arts Education
When I assumed the presidency of Southwestern University five years ago, I found the foundation for a program that would transform Southwestern and position us as a model for other liberal arts colleges. It was in a proposal written by Jim Hunt, who is now in his fourth year as provost and dean of the faculty.
Dr. Hunt, in collaboration with a number of faculty and staff, had written a proposal for a Portfolio Program in which students would supplement their academic work at Southwestern with a portfolio of experiences in other areas such as leadership, service, international/cultural experiences and collaborative learning. Faculty members would work with small groups of students to help them make connections between their experiences outside the classroom and inside the classroom. The result would be that our students truly receive a transformational education.
Although Dr. Hunts proposal, along with a number of other big ideas, had been temporarily shelved in our 2010 strategic planning process, I envisioned that this program could enhance what Southwestern was already doing to make liberal arts education relevant to the 21st century. We eventually coined a new name for the program, Paideia®, based on a book by philosopher Mortimer J. Adler called The Paideia Proposal. In this book, Adler proposes a new approach to education for students in K-12 based on an ideal balance of learning experiences.
Funds to launch our Paideia® Program came from an unexpected source. In 2003, the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, Texas, asked 19 colleges across the country to submit proposals for programs that had the potential to transform liberal arts education. We responded, and were one of only six colleges to receive funds. Our grant was $8.5 million and provided the catalyst for launching the Paideia® Program. Since then, others have stepped forward to support it, including the Cullen Foundation and the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation of Houston along with many alumni and friends.
Initially, a group of 10 senior professors was appointed to help us fully develop the program, and today 18 of our faculty members are serving as Paideia® Professors.
The first fruits of our labor will be seen this spring as we graduate our first class of Paideia® Scholars, several of whom are featured in this issue. I appreciate the efforts of so many who have helped this program become a reality, including our Paideia® Scholars. The fact that several of our peer institutions have recently started programs with similar elements gives credence to our goal of providing inspiration to other colleges and universities.
While the Paideia® Program engages students during their sophomore, junior and senior years, another new program at Southwestern assists our first-year students and prepares them for programs such as Paideia®. This program, called Living-Learning Communities, gives incoming students the option to take their First-Year Seminar while living together in the same residence hall with a small group of students. Being part of a Living-Learning Community provides yet another living-learning experience for our students.
As with the Paideia® Program, we expect to eventually extend the Living-Learning Communities to more students. And, like the Paideia® Program, we hope Living-Learning Communities will help engage students so that they achieve their academic potential and graduate with an enriched sense of the world around them.
Jake B. Schrum 68
President, Southwestern University