When Great Minds Think Alike

New Initiatives Will Create Shared Intellectual Experience

The liberal arts will serve as common ground for several new campuswide programs.
Emory Photo

Imagine a university-wide seminar experience, something that unites disciplines and transcends departmental boundaries. Or a series of campuswide readings, performances, panels, or discussion groups stemming from a central university speaker, program, or event.

Both offer blueprints for building intellectual engagement through shared campus experiences, among several recommendations to emerge from a final report released this fall by the Commission on the Liberal Arts (CoLA), which has been engaged in a vigorous, long-running examination of the future of the liberal arts at Emory.

Initiated by former Emory Provost Earl Lewis in 2012 and recharged by Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Claire Sterk, CoLA was established to consider the long-range future of liberal arts and sharpen a vision for Emory as a residential liberal arts research university. Working toward the goal of integrating a liberal arts education into the student experience across the entire university, the final report identifies several themes and long-term initiatives, along with three specific recommendations: Facilitate intellectual engagement by creating opportunities for sustained conversations, events, and interactions among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the Board of Trustees; create a new kind of cross-unit course that would integrate scholarly and experiential learning with an interdisciplinary, cross-unit team of undergraduates, graduate and professional students, and faculty to provide an integrative liberal arts educational experience; and expand and coordinate mentoring programs across the university.

“We want to think of ways to create more flexible, permeable learning environments,” says CoLA Chair Robyn Fivush, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology, who led the committee along with vice chairs Karen Stolley, professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Deborah Bruner, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Nursing and associate director of outcomes research at the Winship Cancer Institute.

“We’re already a highly successful university; we have so many innovative programs and already do many things extremely well,” says Fivush, who will now help implement recommendations as associate vice provost of academic innovation. “At the same time, knowledge is dynamic. Moving forward, the idea is not to squash those ideas that have worked, but to use them as models to leverage greater access to the community, building to reflect new technologies, new ideas, and new interdisciplinary initiatives.”

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