Leadership Coalition Gathers 43 College and University Presidents at Symposium in Washington

With generous support from the S. Engelhard Center, the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation, Bringing Theory to Practice assembled 43 college and university presidents at the Georgetown University Marriott Conference Center in Washington, DC from November 10-11 for a Symposium on Campus Change for Learning.

The Symposium laid a foundation for shared leadership in advancing a far-reaching shift in undergraduate education, one that includes an enhanced commitment to the full range of liberal education outcomes and their assessment. Bringing Theory to Practice sees presidential leadership as a necessary condition to accomplishing this task.

The event marked the first step in developing a Leadership Coalition of colleges and universities, a community of thought and action working to strengthen campus cultures for learning. The 43 participants in the Coalition have committed to making liberal education a holistic and transformative learning experience.

The Symposium featured presentations on the latest research on learning and institutional change, and new educational models that have been adopted by institutions of various types. Presenters and discussion facilitators included scholars, researchers, institutional leaders, foundation leaders, and professional leaders.

Much of the conference stemmed from the premise that improving outcomes for students requires an institutional reconstruction of priorities. Presidents discussed conceptual frameworks for defining and advancing liberal education outcomes and their translation to fit individual campus contexts. A discussion of the research regarding initial qualitative and quantitative means for assessment followed.

Symposium participants stressed civic engagement as one of several core purposes of liberal education. Much discussion focused on how to prepare students within a multicultural student body to become actively engaged in a civic society. Panelists emphasized horizontal learning structures as well as improving relationships between institutions and their communities as essential to addressing the needs of the “whole student.”

Other presentations explored particular features or challenges to facilitating transformational change and ways to overcome them. These addressed developing new rewards systems for faculty, promoting the mental health and well-being of students, and lessons learned from campus initiatives sponsored already through the BTtoP project, including those at Georgetown University.

Presidents also discussed the financial challenges to creating campus cultures for change, as well as new budgetary obstacles that institutions will encounter amidst the current economic crises.

Symposium participants heard a presentation by Dr. Benjamin Barber, author and political theorist; distinguished senior fellow, who discussed the barriers to advancing liberal education in a globalizing world. Barber spoke of the widespread culture of specialization, privatization and “mediaization” as new challenges for modern liberal education.

The President’s Symposium was the initial step in forming a Leadership Coalition that will be sustained over the next several years. BTtoP will support the institutions involved through planning grant support and implementation assistance. Subsequently, participating institutions will serve as national models for transformative education that attends to the academic, personal, and civic dimensions of learning.