Takeaways from an Esteemed Advocate of Liberal Arts Education

By Julie Kidd

Introduced by Howard Gardner

Julie Kidd is President of The Endeavor Foundation in New York City, a position she has held since 1975. As part of her Foundation work, Kidd has spent several decades supporting, developing, and advocating for liberal arts programs, within the United States and also abroad. We have known each other for many years—I believe that we first met at a conference in Cambridge on the liberal arts twenty-five years ago! Since then, The Endeavor Foundation (previously called The Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation) has generously supported much of our research, and Julie has become a valued adviser and friend.

After reading our “Takeaways” For College Presidents, Julie prepared her own very thoughtful list. She has generously given us permission to post her takeaways below. Wendy Fischman and I are preparing our own more recent thoughts about the purposes of higher education and will post them within the month. May this important conversation continue!

Julie Kidd’s Seven Takeaways:

1. Create a compulsory freshman course on the meaning and power of studying in the tradition of the liberal arts and sciences. This can be demonstrated in many concrete ways. Send a precis of the course to all parents of incoming freshmen.

2. Create a framework in which small groups of students study the same topics together across several courses and thus create a common frame of reference and compelling themes for discussion outside the classroom. This framework should include civic engagement experiences so that students apply their learning to real world situations while, at the same time, creating experiential bonds which work against feelings of disconnectedness and anomie.

3. Maintain a faculty student ratio which allows faculty to work closely with their students and to provide significant and meaningful, grounded mentorship.

4. Reward faculty for teaching first and scholarship second.

5. Redirect funds away from competitive athletics to athletics for health and well-being and to establish life-long practices of exercise.

6. Break up our large universities into small liberal arts colleges within the university so that small, personalized classes can be the norm and also so that a great deal of mentorship work can occur.

7. Have courage to challenge the norms and gain support for these approaches through continued bombardment of the public with appropriate information about what higher learning and the college experience should be.

Without these commitments, in my view, the college and university experiences today will not change or improve. The system needs transformation, not little changes around the edges, though those are better than none at all. Change around the edges, however, can cause a false sense of complacency, which undermines transformational change.


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