Sending me to a prominent liberal arts school meant something special to them because it represented access to opportunity. This wasn’t only economic opportunity, but the chance to choose work, make friends and participate in a community based on educated interests rather than just social and ethnic origins.
Since I am now president of Wesleyan University, I guess we all got more than we bargained for.
My parents were part of a wave of Americans after World War II whose confidence in the future and belief in education helped create the greatest university sector in the world. Students from all walks of life began to have the chance to acquire a well-rounded education, and it was on this basis that Americans created a vibrant culture, a dynamic economy and a political system that (after many struggles) strove to make equality before the law a fundamental feature of public life.
A well-rounded education gave graduates more tools with which to solve problems, broader perspectives through which to see opportunities and a deeper capacity to build a more humane society.
In recent years university leaders in Asia, the Mideast and even Europe have sought to organize curricula more like those of our liberal art schools. How, they want to know, can we combine rigorous expectations of learning with the development of critical thinking and creativity that are the hallmarks of the best American colleges?