June 2007
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The Universal Necessity of Liberal Education

By Daniel F. Sullivan (May 20, 2007)

In his welcoming remarks at St. Lawrence University’s 2007 commencement, President Daniel F. Sullivan argued that today “liberal education is being ‘discovered’ in new ways as the skills, habits of mind, and personal attributes we associate with a liberally educated person become more and more necessary for almost any kind of work and life.” In fact, Sullivan said, those skills—which include “analysis, synthesis, teamwork and problem-solving, high-level written and communication skills, critical and creative thinking, intercultural knowledge and competence, quantitative literacy, and information literacy”—are becoming “an almost universal necessity.”

President Sullivan’s remarks focused specifically on AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, which seeks to expand public understanding of the importance of a liberal education in the twenty-first century. Sullivan, who will become the chair of the AAC&U Board of Directors in 2008, noted that recent surveys commissioned by AAC&U suggest that the American public understands the value of liberal education: majorities of business leaders and recent college graduates “believe that an undergraduate education should provide a balance of a well-rounded education and knowledge and skills in a specific field.”

Sullivan concluded his remarks by turning to recent recommendations from Secretary Spellings’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The commission’s report, according to Sullivan, “makes sweeping claims about the quality and effectiveness of higher education” but fails “to provide any guidance on what a high-quality, twenty-first-century higher education should in fact be.” If the “cafeteria-style, grab and go model advocated by Secretary Spellings” is given precedence over the kind of vision represented by LEAP, Sullivan argued, “disastrous” results could ensue both for individual students and for the U.S. economy.

The full text of President Sullivan’s remarks is available on St. Lawrence University’s Web site. Information about the LEAP initiative is available on AAC&U’s Web site.


The articles featured in AAC&U News Perspectives do not necessarily represent the views of AAC&U staff, its board of directors, or its membership.