Here at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, we believe that education is 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. Thus, 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 espouse the values of a Liberal Education as defined by the renowned educator John Henry Newman, who wrote in The Idea of a University that students are transformed by higher education through the development of a “clear conscious view” of their 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, at UMPI, 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 Athletic Training, Biology, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, English, Fine Art, History, Journalism and Mass Media, Physical Education, Psychology, Social Work, 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.
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. 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
Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of English
* You can read Newman’s The Idea of a University online at http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/index.html