From the Director: BTtoP Track at the AAC&U Centennial Annual Meeting in January

By Don Harward, Director, Bringing Theory to Practice Project

The Centennial Annual Meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), January 21–24, 2015, will mark the thirteenth year of Bringing Theory to Practice and a full decade of support extended by the Project to over 300 colleges and universities of all types. Bringing Theory to Practice has enjoyed a meaningful partnership with AAC&U for our entire history—while independent in every respect, our connection with the nation’s leading organization of liberal education initiatives has been integral to our larger impact.

Over this period of partnership, approximately $10 million of grant support has been extended to campuses through four separate requests for proposals. We have dedicated time and resources to putting on major conferences and events that featured campus initiatives and achievements; designing and carrying out specialized research projects; and writing and publishing books and monographs. There have also been multiple occasions on which BTtoP initiatives have been featured in professional, disciplinary, and higher education organization conferences, newsletters, journals, and videos for general audiences.

But the marketplace of ideas is crowded, and BTtoP has frequently received the reaction that “We did not realize what you were about!” Or, “We have only recently recognized your work’s effect and want to be involved.”

BTtoP’s involvement in the 2015 Centennial Annual Meeting of AAC&U will mark a clear step in our emergence and presence. AAC&U has offered BTtoP the opportunity to feature in its celebratory Centennial Colloquium on the first day of the meeting. BTtoP’s contribution will be a morning session titled “Flourishing and Well-Being: The Missing Essential Dimensions of Higher Education’s Core Purposes, Values, and Promise.” Moreover, over the subsequent two days, five BTtoP sessions will be featured—presenting research findings, highlighting campus-based practices, and documenting the connections in theory, purpose, and practice among intentionally designed learning opportunities, civic engagement, preparation for meaningful work, and well-being. We welcome your attendance and involvement!

The presentations during these sessions will be bold. This is an opportunity to have the direct attention of thousands of attendees who work in higher education—and, through them and the media, the attention of the public. Our objective is to make a compelling case for altering the predominant conversation and re-ordering the priorities now characterizing most of higher education. We contend that without addressing well-being as a part of the core purposes of higher education, the conversation remains in the rut of vocational instrumentalism. Without actively encouraging in the campus culture and its educational opportunities the well-being of all students as whole persons (including their flourishing and other manifestations such as persistence, purposefulness, identity, and civic value development), issues of access, uses of technology and new pedagogies, or even the challenges of costs, priorities, and political pressures cannot, and will not, be resolved.

For many, what BTtoP argues and supports is obvious. For some, the BTtoP agenda may seem radical and threatening—or at least “not what higher education should do.” And for others, “this is the agenda that defines us as educators.” For all, it is both timely and essential to have the robust conversation that the agenda implies.

BTtoP Sessions and Events at the AAC&U Centennial Annual Meeting
Wednesday, January 21
2:45-4:00 p.m.: Flourishing and Well-Being: Essential Dimensions of Higher Education’s Core Purposes, Values, and Promise
4:15-5:15 p.m.: Mobilizing Bold Leadership for America’s Global Future. Featuring BTtoP cofounder Sally Engelhard Pingree

Thursday, January 22
10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Making Higher Education Whole: Reconnecting Liberal Learning to Well-Being
2:00-3:00 p.m.: Strengthening Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education
3:15-4:15 p.m.: Facilitating Well-Being: Institutional Structures, Policies, and Priorities
5:00-6:30 p.m.: BTtoP Reception

Friday, January 23
8:45-10:00 a.m.: High-Impact Practices and Student Flourishing: The Evidence We Have and the Evidence We Need
10:30-11:45 a.m.: How It Can Be Done: Making Well-being a Core Element of Institutional Purpose