Honorary Degree Citation for Carol Geary Schneider

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Carol Geary Schneider has been president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities since 1998.   Having received her B.A. in history from Mount Holyoke College in 1967 and her Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, she has taught at the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Chicago State University and Boston University.  Consisting of more than 1300 institutions, public and private, two- year and four-year, selective and open-admissions, AAC&U is the leading national organization committed to strengthening undergraduate liberal education.

Under her leadership, AAC&U has become widely recognized as both a voice and force for strengthening the quality of student learning in college for all students, especially those historically underserved in U.S. higher education.  One of the most significant initiatives launched by AAC&U under Dr. Schneider’s guidance has been the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), a public advocacy and campus action initiative designed to engage students and the public with what really matters in a college education for the twenty-first century.  Begun in 2005, the project aims to articulate the goals of liberal education and to identify comprehensive, innovative models that improve learning for all undergraduate students.  LEAP responds to the changing demands of our historical moment—demands for more college-educated workers and more engaged and informed citizens.  Operating on the understanding that college graduates need higher levels of learning and knowledge in the years to come, LEAP focuses on the strong intellectual and practical skills graduates will need to navigate this more demanding environment effectively and responsibly.

At the core of AAC&U’s advocacy and Dr. Schneider’s leadership lies the commitment to achieving educational excellence, one that necessarily includes an embrace of diversity.  Diversity, defined by Dr. Schneider as “the respectful engagement with cultures and perspectives very different from one’s own AND the study of socially enforced inequalities with the goal of expanding equality,” has become integral to the degree requirements for the majority of AAC&U’s member campuses.   In her essay, “Diversity and Democracy: The Unfinished Work,” Dr. Schneider states that “Engaging with ideas, beliefs and experiences, and cultural traditions very different from one’s own is a necessary part of any high-quality education, and a new basis both for success in the workplace and for civic problem-solving in our society.”

In a time when much of the national political dialogue about higher education focuses on the cost of college and the financial security or lack thereof guaranteed by a college degree, Dr. Schneider’s voice has been one to caution us about the danger of assessing the value of education solely through “gainful employment” expectations.  By focusing on a few data points, such as major fields and salary levels, we run the risk of losing sight of what matters most in education.  According to Dr. Schneider, “The basic problem with the recent spate of wage studies is that they start not with a full analysis of what society needs from its commitment to college, but rather with data sets that are now available and can be correlated.  A high-quality accountability system to help determine the value of higher education needs to begin by clarifying the multiple important purposes of higher education—the educational goals—and not just with available measurement tools.”  Dr. Schneider emphasizes that our society needs many different kinds of talented students whose interests must be met by higher education.  The success of the future rests upon collaborative endeavors between the humanities and technology, and thus wage studies looking at students’ majors and wages will accelerate what Dr. Schneider calls “the narrowing of the American mind,” precisely at the historical moment when multi-dimensional learning is critical to our success.

Luther College is proud to honor Dr. Schneider’s career achievements in the field of education, her commitment to the integrity of American academics and the well-being of all college graduates, and her passion for ensuring the existence of a thoughtful, compassionate, and responsible society. 

Madam President, on behalf of the faculty of Luther College, I present to you Carol Geary Schneider as a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Professor Novian Whitsitt
Opening Convocation, February 5, 2015
Center for Faith and Life
Luther College