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'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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.