At the College of Arts and Sciences, we believe that education must be much more than simply a pre-packaged set of skills that faculty dispense and students memorize. Rather, education must play a transformative role in the lives of students and the society in which they live. In other words, we don’t simply prepare individuals to “fit into” a pre-existing (and at times unjust) society; instead, we provide the tools by which students engage, evaluate, and ultimately transform their world. Here at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, we recognize that our graduates must both be prepared for today’s economy as well as the responsibilities and challenges they will face as global citizens. In this sense, we espousethe values of a Liberal Education as defined by the renowned educator John Henry Newman, who wrote in The Idea of a University:
It is the education which gives a man [and woman!] a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them.
Newman’s crucial point is that the student is transformed by higher education through the development of a “clear conscious view” of his or her own “judgments.” As a result of this process—after this “liberal education”—the individual will “be at home in any society” and thus able to forge a
common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon…
In other words, in the College of Arts and Sciences we do not believe that higher education is simply a Google “search engine” or a data bank. It is inherently “liberal” because it prepares us to engage the world in all its complexity and multitude. For this reason, we are committed to the importance of civic, ethical, and cross-cultural learning as priorities for all of our programs and each of our students. Furthermore, we believe that all students should gain proficiency in learning outcomes that both educators and employers cite as increasingly essential—including the areas of Science and Technology, Global issues and Cultural diversity, Civic knowledge and engagement, Written and oral communication, Critical thinking and complex problem solving, Ethical decision making, and Applied knowledge in real-world settings. (You may find a full report of these essential outcomes in “Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn,” at www.aacu.org/leap.)
To this end, each of our programs—whether it be Environmental Studies and Sustainability, Biology, English, Fine Art, History, Journalism and Mass Media, Mathematics, Psychology, or any of our other majors—is sustained by three commonly held core values: student empowerment, dialogue, and critical thinking and communication.
Student empowerment is at the heart of an effective education, and is our most fundamental goal. Student empowerment ensures that students are active and invested in their education, that they are co-contributors to the learning community in general and to their own learning process in particular. Secondly, student empowerment means educating students so that they want to be responsible for their education— it means providing an environment for students to reach higher levels of motivation so that they become invested in learning and creating their knowledge. This process is illustrated by Sara Oliver and Craig Cormier’s work with Dr. Kimberly Sebold researching in Aroostook County local history; by the experiences of students delivering papers and poetry at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference in Ogden, Utah, just one of many conferences underwritten for students by the institution; by annual educational adventures to Europe led by Fine Art professor Clifton Boudman; by Dr. John DeFelice’s recent production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata with his “Special Topics in Ancient History” class as a way to share their experiences with the campus and local community; as well as a multitude of other advanced research and service-learning opportunities in our College.
Dialogue is the starting point of any meaningful liberal education in that it recognizes each individual student as one with his or her own history of experiences and values. Dialogue also positions the professor as a learner, as a “teacher-student” who becomes the facilitator or director of investigation rather than the banker and assessor of facts. We believe that dialogue must occur both inside and outside the classroom; it must be an innate aspect of the student’s entire learning process and one that he or she comes to recognize will continue long after their studies at the university have concluded.
Finally, we believe an educated person is one who knows how to ask critical questions, one who is informed and makes decisions knowing, to paraphrase Paulo Freire, “what is connected to what” both within his or her chosen field and across our curriculum more generally. Educating people to be critical thinkers means providing them with the tools to be aware of how society functions and to think beyond the boundaries of a narrow discipline or occupation. Critical thinking means active participation in one’s process of learning; it means analyzing rather than passively accepting information, and, ultimately, questioning one’s own and each other’s opinions and knowledge. Such abilities are crucial if we, as a society, hope to achieve the goals set forth by John Henry Newman:
The artist puts before him beauty of feature and form; the poet, beauty of mind; the preacher, the beauty of grace: then intellect too, I repeat, has its beauty, and it has those who aim at it. To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression…*
This, indeed, is the purpose of a Liberal Education and the goals to which it aims. To achieve it, one need only realize that, indeed, one has always a great deal more to learn.
Dr. Ray Rice
Professor of English,
Chair of the College of Arts and Sciences
* You can read Newman’s The Idea of a University online at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/index.html