Grants in Higher Education

May 19, 2006


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May 2006
Graduate Theological Union, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Franciscan School of Theology, Jesuit School of T
Engaging Meaning through Mentorship: Strengthening Post-Secondary Liberal Education through Vocation-Based Mentoring of Future Faculty
Project Leaders: James Donohue


$100,000 over 24 months. How can faculty charged with the development of future faculty best mentor toward vocation? The Graduate Theological Union, in partnership with its nine member schools and the University of California at Berkeley, will conduct a two year, comprehensive research project in which senior faculty will develop strategies for introducing "big questions" of vocation into doctoral-level teaching preparation. These "big questions" include: What am I called to do in my life? How can my work be meaningful and satisfying? How can my work and my life encourage others to pursue lives and careers of meaning? How can my teaching help students to engage questions of meaning and value in their own lives? Strategies developed by faculty in a series of inter-institutional forums will inform a doctoral seminar—on the history and purpose of liberal education in America and current debates about its ongoing relevance and value, as well as pedagogical strategies aimed at engaging questions of meaning in theology and religious studies classrooms—and direct mentoring with students as they first, assist in the classroom, and then conduct supervised teaching. Results from the project will contribute to the revitalization of pedagogies and critical assessment around "big questions" in higher education.

Hampshire College, Berea College, Cornell College, Smith College, Warren Wilson College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The Liberal Arts as Preparation for a Life of Work
Project Leaders: Steven Weisler


$100,000 over 24 months. How should liberal education respond to shifting expectations about the nature of work, and what role should an undergraduate education play in preparing students for their eventual careers? Taking on a tradition that has kept liberal education distinct from career preparation, the collaborating institutions contend that liberal education provides students with strong preparation for their careers, and that specific practices and programs on their campuses help to forge a direct and persuasive connection between liberal arts and the world of work. Berea and Warren Wilson Colleges require their students to work; Smith College pays stipends to students who take on qualified, unpaid summer internships related to their academic and career interests; Cornell College has created a range of majors that embrace the liberal arts and professional training; Hampshire College offers programs in invention and entrepreneurship; and Worcester Polytechnic's Global Perspectives Program allows students to serve as consultants to local nonprofits, government agencies, or businesses. With these programs in place, the working group will:
  • Produce a White Paper that surveys and explains these practices;

  • Conduct an assessment of efforts at each campus to determine how the integration of work preparation and liberal education shapes student learning, with the aim of developing an assessment protocol that clarifies the liberal learning outcomes appropriate to work preparation and allows the group to bring quantitative and qualitative data to bear in evaluating their central claims about the value—and values—that such integrated programs confer on their students;

  • Discuss what the evaluation of current programming suggests for future and improved programming.

National Humanities Center
Contemporary Challenges to the Concept of the Human
Project Leaders: Richard Schramm


$90,251 over 15 months. In summer 2007, the National Humanities Center will assemble a group of liberal arts faculty members from a variety of disciplines for a three-week seminar devoted to understanding and contextualizing some of the challenges to the concept of the human posed by advances in genomics, neuroscience, computer science, nanotechnology, and other scientific and technological fields. Three leading humanities scholars will direct the seminar, and seminar leaders will collaborate with participants to develop ways to teach the texts and concepts discussed. Discussions will continue via electronic media during the 2007 - 2008 academic year, and the group will re-convene in spring 2008 for a two-day seminar in which they will continue discussions, review how their work has made its way into their classrooms, and select material for an electronic resource to help others teaching this material. This project is part of the National Humanities Center's larger initiative, "Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity," which will explore—in various ways—the striking and unprecedented convergence of scientific research and technological innovation on the question of the human.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society
Deliberation about Things that Matter
Project Leaders: John Churchill


$100,000 over 20 months. As part of the Phi Beta Kappa Society's effort to reinvigorate its chapters and associations, and specifically to empower these chapters to play a stronger role on their campuses as champions of liberal education, the Society will undertake a national initiative, coordinating projects on eleven campuses (Arizona State University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Colorado College, Drake University, Hendrix College, Hope College, Stetson University, The University of Texas, The University of Vermont, Wabash College, and Washington State University) focused on teaching deliberative approaches to things that matter. The goals of these campus projects are two: to examine the process of deliberation itself, and to explore a substantive "big question" (such as the essential nature of the human, the divine, the good life and the good human being, justice, beauty and sublimity). Responsibility for on-campus activities—seminars, discussions, forums, and other forms of instructional engagement—will be shared by the local Phi Beta Kappa chapter and a curricular authority on each campus. A concluding seminar in Washington D.C. will convene participants from all campuses involved, and the resulting White Paper will focus on the effectiveness of this process in developing a better understanding of major issues, as well as better ways of understanding what it is to hold a view well, and for good reasons.

The University of Chicago, Carleton College, and Macalester College
What can I do to right the wrongs of the world?
Project Leaders: Michael Geyer


$100,000 over 24 months. The Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago, in conjunction with Carleton and Macalester Colleges, will assemble a working group to determine how human rights education can advance answers to the "big question": "What can I do to right the wrongs of the world?" The working group of eighteen to twenty faculty members will address this question from variety of perspectives: theological, philosophical, political, cultural, sociological, and rhetorical. How nations, states, and societies develop a sense of right and wrong, how government and the rule of law can right a wrong, the global and local dimensions of rights, and the ways in which rights issues are articulated will also be discussed. The group will conduct research on contemporary human rights problems, as well as on comparative pedagogy and curriculum development. The project is expected to result in the invigoration of the current Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago, the development of a new human rights program at Macalester, and the creation of a Resource Center for Human Rights Liberal Arts Curriculum, an open, online information center which will serve as the working group's White Paper. It will include papers written for working group sessions, a record of their discussions, and a set of syllabi for human rights courses based in the humanities and social sciences.

University of Richmond, Associated Colleges of the South, Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, historically black colleges and universities in Virginia
The Pedagogy of Belief and Doubt
Project Leaders: Sydney Watts


$100,000 over 24 months. At the heart of liberal education is the willingness to engage in open, thoughtful dialogue about what we know and what we believe. Wanting to make a subject relevant and meaningful to their students, faculty often pose 'big questions' to solicit common points of reference and establish baselines for further discussion, and yet this meeting of minds raises pedagogical challenges. Asking students to suspend certain beliefs and convictions, even as classroom leaders do the same, is arguably the first step in developing critical faculties of independent thought and fostering unbiased, meaningful discussion. But in putting aside moral or religious viewpoints, do professors who claim a liberal stance practice a restrictive pedagogy? Conversely, do those who in a spirit of inclusion allow all viewpoints in a discussion immediately negate the credibility of students who believe the Bible (or other text) to be the literal, revealed truth?

The working group will explore such questions and the issues they raise by focusing on pedagogy and on faculty and curriculum development. Fifteen working group members will be selected from the faculties of the University of Richmond, the member colleges of the Associated Colleges of the South and the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, and from the historically black colleges and Universities of Virginia. Selections will be made on the basis of proposals for new or significantly revised courses in a range of disciplines that raise pedagogical challenges because of the religious, spiritual, or moral questions they entail. The group will convene for a week-long faculty seminar in summer 2007 to address these challenges and to consider the tenets of belief or unbelief as a barrier to and / or catalyst for learning. Participants will teach their courses on their respective campuses during the 2007 - 2008 academic year, continuing to communicate through electronic media, and keeping a journal of their teaching experiences. They will re-convene in summer 2008 to review the effectiveness of their work, and of the seminar itself as a tool for making it possible to offer courses that confront big questions with conceptual foundations that raise controversies of belief. A summary of the experience of each faculty member, an analysis of the effectiveness of the faculty development seminar, and a summary of the pedagogical assumptions and limitations—if any—which seem to be common to the experience of a number of faculty when dealing with religious / spiritual / moral questions in the classroom will compose the White Paper.

Vassar College, Bucknell University, Macalester College, Williams College
On Secularity and Liberal Education | Project website
Project Leaders: Sam Speers


$99,377 over 24 months. The collaborating institutions will devise and test new understandings of secularity in liberal arts education as a means of engaging students in questions of meaning and value. Established in the late 18th or 19th centuries, when liberal Protestantism was assumed to be integral to teaching, learning and service at a college, all four institutions have over time come to reflect the secular and secularizing trends in US higher education. These institutions value secular ideas as a means to promote tolerance and critical thought, and to create democratic institutions and civic engagement, but they also wonder whether uncritical secular assumptions are in various ways stripping some students and faculty of fundamental aspects of their identity. They wonder, in other words, if secularity is truly "neutral." Exploring how current understandings of secularity both help and hinder efforts to integrate questions of value and meaning into the curriculum as well as the co-curriculum, faculty and administrators on each campus will develop initiatives specific to their needs to devise and test more robust and capacious understandings of secularity.

The working group proposes a joint series of initiatives, including a quantitative and qualitative assessment of student attitudes, an inventory on each campus of what "big questions" students are asking and where they are asking them, faculty-administrator seminars, new course models, faculty-student research projects, campus-wide discussions, visiting scholars, and, at the conclusion of the first year, a multi-campus public conference. In the second year, the partners will continue the first year activities, implement new curricular, teaching development, and co-curricular initiatives, and convene a working group meeting for the preparation of the White Paper. This project will propose new definitions and test models of secularity in the liberal arts, and describe best practices for incorporating questions of meaning and value into the classroom and beyond.