WESLEYAN EDUCATION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

INTRODUCTION

Eighteen months ago we began a sweeping review of Wesleyan's educational commitments and practices. Our purpose was to test and renew Wesleyan's long-standing commitment to liberal education as the challenges of the twenty-first century emerge. The context for this review is familiar - an explosion of knowledge, a global economy, technological advances that can only accelerate, changing commitments in our own society, and a strident challenge from critics of higher education who assert, often mistakenly, that we have lost our way.

As a compact community of scholars and learners, Wesleyan has the chance for an empowering consensus on the fundamentals of our mission. Our independence means we can set our own course more readily than can other institutions of higher learning, once we have reviewed the full range of scholarship and learning at Wesleyan.

Wesleyan's review has been bottom-up to assure that as many issues as possible would be considered. In the autumn of 1995, I issued a call to all members of the community - faculty and staff, students, trustees, and alumni - to submit short papers recommending issues our academic planning process should address. Ninety responded with their ideas and proposals. An inclusive group of 36 met in a retreat in December 1995 to review these papers. A planning group then commissioned 29 essays, which were circulated over the summer and posted on the World Wide Web. These essays have served us well as background reading for six campus-wide open forums. In addition to our dialogue on campus, I have had discussions with alumni around the country.

This paper is designed to capture the substance of our deliberations and, without settling every issue, give us a plan for moving Wesleyan toward new excellence.

LIBERAL EDUCATION AT WESLEYAN

Wesleyan graduates will live in a world of plurality and change. They will change jobs, communities, countries. They will work on a turbulent frontier of new information and technological advances. They will have to make ethical and moral judgments based on the reliability of their own gyroscopes, more than on received wisdom. They will need confidence to choose their own directions. They will need the ability to capture the energy of change rather than being captured by it. They must be able to prosper in a global economy. Their success as individuals, citizens, and leaders will require both enduring skills and a platform of knowledge and values against which to assess an explosion of new information and unfamiliar circumstances.

Liberal education, with its breadth and intellectual discipline, offers students the best preparation for a world of change and plurality. As in the past, liberal education continues to be redefined to accommodate new knowledge and needs, and Wesleyan is contributing to that redefinition as the University defines its own educational future.

The task of liberal education, as we see it today, is to instill a capacity for critical and creative thinking that can address unfamiliar and changing circumstances, to engender a moral sensibility that can weigh consequence beyond self, and to establish an enduring love of learning for its own sake that will enable graduates to refresh their education throughout their lives. In a plural age, ìliberal educationî can no longer imply a single canon, nor should an educational institution prescribe values. It does teach students how to think confidently and act independently, free of unexamined assumptions, and it is to these characteristics of intellectual and personal freedom that we attach the term "liberal".

We intend that Wesleyan graduates have a strong sense of public purpose and responsibility for the global future. Liberal education offers the underpinning for democracy in a time when technical specialization may make the common interest increasingly hard to discern. Wesleyan President Victor Butterfield, in 1955, declared that Wesleyan would graduate people "who far out of proportion to their numbers will help give our country strength of moral and intellectual leadership." We reaffirm that commitment for a global era.

Wesleyan will continue to educate the gifted and curious and to welcome students from all cultural and economic backgrounds, from America and increasingly from abroad. Because learning takes place outside the classroom as well as inside, Wesleyan's status as a residential institution and the diversity of its community will remain strong educational assets. For all who graduate, a Wesleyan degree will signify breadth, depth, and excellence of academic accomplishment.

ESSENTIAL CAPABILITIES

Our review has identified essential capabilities of a high order that all Wesleyan graduates will require:

These capabilities are learned partly through instruction, partly by example, and partly from the community. Some can be taught in special, focused programs like Wesleyan's successful Writing Across the Curriculum program. Others may be the primary subject matter of courses, or an important pedagogical element where subject matter is not directly related. Some can be learned from a well-functioning community that is as diverse as Wesleyan's. Developed during the undergraduate years, these capabilities will be durable and self-renewing, the most important legacy of liberal education in the student years.

Students come to us equipped differently with these capabilities and will acquire them in different ways. Integrating instruction in skills and substance is the essence of liberal education. As one paper put it, "The challenge is to see how the overall diversity of our courses is to become a particular student's education.... The ideal curriculum is properly an individual, even idiosyncratic one, built on basic skills to be sure." This requires that we provide students both with a rich set of curricular alternatives that build essential capabilities, as well as with careful advising and guidance throughout their careers at Wesleyan.

Content is no less important than capabilities. As an institution we choose what to teach and how, and it is incumbent upon us to make these choices in a way that will have the most lasting educational impact - meaningful content, instructional energy, adaptability to new knowledge, room for contesting views, challenge to bias and prejudice, invitation to self-knowledge, and contribution to essential capabilities. Content choices are made continuously by individual professors, departments, and the university as a whole. The purpose of this plan is not to preempt subject matter choices but rather to establish the principles and rationale against which those choices can be tested in the future.

LEARNING, SCHOLARSHIP AND TEACHING

Wesleyan is a learning community. Our challenge is to deploy our available assets in a way that makes the most of every educational encounter. This implies faculty engaging students in active learning as creators of knowledge, encouraging students to learn from each other, connecting residential life with academic purpose, and building a sense of community that works in support of liberal education. Full development of Wesleyan as a residential educational community will assure our comparative advantage against electronic "distance-learning" alternatives.

Wesleyan has long held that excellent scholarship and excellent teaching are complementary. Our review profoundly confirms that this is true. Scholarly pursuit of knowledge for its own sake invests teaching with passion and a compelling sense of discovery. Research in its highest form is a quest for sophisticated connections that coincides with the need for synthesis in teaching.

Learning at Wesleyan occurs in visual and performing arts studios, instructional and research laboratories, on archeological digs and oceanographic expeditions, as well as in classrooms, libraries and cyberspace. By engaging directly the most challenging and important developments in current scholarship, Wesleyan scholar-teachers can help students participate in shaping knowledge rather than being mere consumers of established views.

In the twenty-first century, the combination of scholarship and teaching will become even more important for two reasons.

First, the opportunity for students to engage in research and discovery becomes all the more valuable when learning capabilities rather than content will be the most abiding legacy of a liberal education.

Second, the scholar-teacher model is a compelling force for innovation, not for the sake of innovation per se but for institutional renewal in a fast-changing environment. Wesleyan's departments and interdisciplinary programs are strong today because scholar-teachers, actively engaged in the creation and transmission of new knowledge, have kept them up-to-date.

At Wesleyan, the innovation dividend from the scholar-teacher model depends heavily on an open curriculum that gives individual faculty considerable latitude, with departmental and administrative approval, to determine their course offerings. Scholarship is also supported through WesleyanÌs sabbatical policy and through seven centers that support scholarship as well as education for students and service to the larger community.

Wesleyan's primary pedagogical commitment is to its undergraduates. Doctoral programs in life sciences, physics, chemistry, math, and world music have been created over the years to buttress scholarship and teaching, and some have achieved distinction as graduate programs per se. Wesleyan will continue to assess existing graduate programs and proposals for new ones, along with all other programs, in terms of their contribution to the nexus of scholarship and undergraduate education.

Our interdisciplinary programs are another important force for innovation. Because Wesleyan has long encouraged curricular and disciplinary change, interdisciplinary programs have flourished at Wesleyan for decades. These programs originate and mature because knowledge expands ceaselessly beyond departmental boundaries created decades ago, because Wesleyan is small enough to invite serious exchanges among scholar-teachers from different disciplines, and because a diverse student body demands a curriculum that tests established points of view. They are intrinsically supportive of two goals of liberal education: to expose students to a plurality of perspectives and to train them to stay abreast of emerging paradigms. Staffed largely with faculty from academic departments, interdisciplinary programs contribute to the renewal and refocusing of traditional disciplines. In all subject areas, they will continue to have a major role in transforming the production of knowledge and the structure of the academy.

A third force for innovation is the revolution in information and communication technology. Wesleyan, like all other higher education institutions, will both drive and be driven by this revolution. New technology presents opportunities to free faculty from routine conveyance of skills and information and allows them to concentrate on the liberal arts experiences of interactive, small group, and one-on-one learning. It helps level the research playing field so that Wesleyan scholars can work even more easily from Middletown than in the past. The library faces an intense but promising challenge in balancing support for traditional resources while shifting toward electronic systems in a way that assures scholars of the reliability and permanence of scholarly resources.

We intend to exploit technology strategically as a tool for research and learning. We will identify and employ proven state-of-the art hardware and software so that the scholarly community has technologies that make finding and delivering information as efficient and transparent as is technologically possible.

A WESLEYAN EDUCATION

Having defined Wesleyan's educational purposes and academic assets, we can assess current programs and enhancements that will assure students the opportunity to make the best use of each year at Wesleyan.

Wesleyan now serves its juniors and seniors well. They undertake rigorous majors in departments and in interdisciplinary programs, achieving depth in coherent areas of study. Requirements are usually clear and stringent, with appropriate opportunities for creating individually-tailored programs and multiple majors. Participation in scholarly activity is most direct. For the upper classes, advising is closely linked to the area of study. Mentoring flourishes. Twenty-seven percent of the class of '96 wrote honors theses. Twenty-two percent completed two or more majors. Forty-two percent of the class had at least one individual tutorial.

Wesleyan's program outside the majors is less defined. Our program for the first two years includes three special categories of courses: "gateway" introductory courses required for majors and usually taught in multiple, mid-sized sections; general education courses in the sciences designed for nonspecialists; and the "First Year Initiative" (FYI) courses. The FYI courses include seminars, with fewer than 20 students, plus sections of larger courses designed specifically for first-year students. Each first-year student is guaranteed one seminar in the fall or spring semester. Beyond these special courses, first- and second-year students may take any course for which they have fulfilled the prerequisites.

There are distribution "expectations" that students before they graduate will take three courses in each of the three divisions: the arts and humanities, social sciences, and sciences and mathematics. Of 1,050 courses offered in 1995/96, 667 or 64 percent are considered to satisfy the distributional expectations. By graduation, 90 percent of students have fulfilled the distribution expectation for years one and two, and 75 percent have completed all expectations. Students who do not fulfill the expectations are ineligible for honors in some departments, for Phi Beta Kappa, and for University Honors.

The Wesleyan curriculum offers students room to explore, and this is no small value in a liberal education. There are at least three questions we must answer, however:

Does the curriculum offer students enough opportunities to learn the essential capabilities we have identified?

Do students and their advisers have enough guidance to create a pedagogically sound four-year program for each student?

Do the mechanics (course availability, course access, class size) enable students to fulfill their educational needs?

Our review suggests a consensus that the first and second years, at least, need greater coherence. Because first- and second-year students are not yet majors, no department or faculty member has ownership of their progress. Faculty advisers are assigned on the basis of students' residence assignments rather than on the basis of an educational purpose. Because most advisers never have their own advisees in their classes, many lack the information and the disciplinary expertise to track closely the intellectual development of their advisees. Students in the first years frequently are not admitted to the courses their advisers recommend.

The first two years should provide the most broadening education the Wesleyan faculty can devise, and immerse students in content that the Wesleyan faculty truly considers important to their educational experience. This does not imply a core curriculum, but diverse offerings that have the institution's seal of approval. It also does not mean absolution from risk, exploration or dead ends. The first two years should accomplish the following:

FACILITIES

In addition to providing information technology support, Wesleyan must assure that its physical facilities support its pedagogical commitments. Classrooms, other learning and sports facilities, and residential and dining facilities must be adapted to support Wesleyan's role as a residential learning community. These issues will be addressed initially as part of a master facilities planning effort that has just begun. A detailed assessment of current utilization and additional requirements can be made once the actions in this plan are initiated.

LIFE-LONG LEARNING

Ideally, the Wesleyan community of learners will expand to include graduates engaged through their lifetimes both as learners and as mentors for undergraduates. Wesleyan graduates will be equipped to continue their educations on the basis of inquiry, experience, and new information from all sources. With use of the Internet, Wesleyan can help keep graduates current in their fields and sustain mentoring connections begun during the undergraduate years. Wesleyan is already experimenting with distributed learning over the Internet coupled with visits to campus and symposia for alumni and spouses, and these experiments should expand.

ACTION

We will arrange the Wesleyan experience to assure that every Wesleyan student has the opportunity and incentive to acquire the essential capabilities and learning identified earlier.

Teaching and other resources will be allocated to meet university-wide priorities, with equal attention to all four years of undergraduate education.

Interdisciplinary programs should have their own curricular tables of organization with defined teaching resources. Interdisciplinary course contributions and advising loads will be taken into account in allocating faculty positions, leave replacements, and other institutional resources.

A direct relationship between professors and students will remain crucial to education and mentoring at Wesleyan. To make this relationship as fruitful as possible and to maximize the benefits of scholarship and teaching, departments and individual faculty should explore learning models, formal and informal, in which students help make their own education by engaging in research and teaching support roles, and in which new technologies enhance academic communication and interaction in small group and one-on-one learning.

We will create a fund for innovation to which faculty members, departments, and programs can compete for support in curriculum development and learning innovation, including the application of new technologies. Proposals may include release time. This fund has been budgeted at $300,000 in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1997.

The Provost, the Educational Policy Committee, and others will (a) assess the adequacy and availability of courses stressing essential capabilities in the curriculum, (b) recommend whether such courses should be labeled as such, and (c) determine whether distributional requirements or expectations for attainment of these capabilities should be created.

Students should have excellent advising and guidance throughout their education. Every student's curricular program should reflect deliberate pedagogical choices by students and their advisers. The Dean of the College, working with the Student Affairs Committee and the Educational Policy Committee, will recommend a new advising system for the first and second years. The Provost, working with the Educational Policy Committee, will establish model curricula to guide choices for four years. Some of these model curricula may lead to certificates, as is now the case in international relations and environmental studies.

Departments and programs should initiate internal discussions now about how they can best serve first- and second-year needs identified in this plan and share these proposals with the Provost.

The Provost, the Educational Policy Committee, and others will recommend a comprehensive pedagogical program for the first two years that addresses the principles and specific proposals made during the academic planning process. The recommendation should address content, all aspects of capability development, requirements, and advising. As part of this process, general education courses should be reevaluated in terms of their suitability for developing essential skills and importance of subject matter. I request that this recommendation be received by December 1, 1997.

CONCLUSION

I want to thank all colleagues who participated in this planning process and look forward to working closely and collaboratively on implementation. I have not been able to include every recommendation, many of which will be considered again as implementation proceeds. Nor do I expect total agreement on the specifics of this essay. I hope we do, however, have a consensus on the broad principles governing Wesleyan's purpose and direction, and that these, along with a strong sense of collegiality, will serve us as we respond to the challenge of a new century.