Education Leaders Conclude Conference on Issues Facing Liberal Arts

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The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University led a national audience of faculty, senior college administrators, trustees and policymakers on July 11-13 in discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing liberal arts education.

Dr. Zakiya Smith, strategy director at the Lumina Foundation, presents during the Liberal Arts Illuminated conference.

Liberal arts colleges are more important, and more practical, than ever, but they face enormous and unprecedented challenges – challenges related to their purpose, their role, their value and, ultimately, their sustainability and vitality as institutions.

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University led a national audience of faculty, senior college administrators, trustees and policymakers on July 11-13 in discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing liberal arts education.

The conference theme was “Liberal Arts Illuminated: Pathways, Possibilities, Partnerships,” and was hosted by Presidents Mary Dana Hinton of CSB and Michael Hemesath of SJU.

Presidents Hinton and Hemesath noted in the conference welcome, “Liberal arts colleges are more important, and more practical, than ever, but they face enormous and unprecedented challenges – challenges related to their purpose, their role, their value and, ultimately, their sustainability and vitality as institutions. There is tremendous opportunity in each of those challenges.

“We are called to innovate, embrace risk in new ways and define a future for our students and our institutions that positions the liberal arts as a critical element of our social, political and economic future. We are called to lead.”

Two-hundred fifteen people attended the conference, representing 54 colleges/universities and 20 other organizations (associations, foundations, media, consultants, firms) and included faculty, administration, trustees, students and media professionals.

The conference included a series of plenary speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions. The various sessions, featuring liberal arts thought leaders, engaged a variety of voices and perspectives to answer four major questions:

  • Where is our sector going and how is it transformative?
  • Why should people invest in liberal arts education?
  • How do we ensure economic, social and cultural access for all?
  • What should we do to make sure the liberal arts thrive over the next 50 years?

The opening plenary speaker was Andrew Delbanco, the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and author of the book, “College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be.” He presented “What is College For?”

Three additional plenary sessions were given by:

  • Zakiya Smith, strategy director at the Lumina Foundation, presented on “Public Policy and the Liberal Arts.”
  • Rebecca Chopp, chancellor of the University of Denver, presented on “Transforming Students, Transforming Ourselves.”
  • Rick Beyer, managing principal of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges Institutional Strategies, presented on “New Business Models for Higher Education.”

Social media coverage of the conference can be found on Storify, and links to stories about the conference and the liberal arts are available at Liberal Arts in the News.

The conference was hosted by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with support from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the Council of Independent Colleges, Academic Impressions, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation and the Minnesota Private College Council, with special funding from U.S. Bank, The Lawlor Group, Baker Tilly, William F. Knese and Suzan-Oda Crokin Knese, and Lee and Vicki Morgan.

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Michael Hemmesch
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