Liberal Education

From the Editor

For many, 2017 was a year of taking stock, marked by reevaluation of longstanding assumptions and reassessment of deeply held priorities. Here at AAC&U, any personal contemplation along these lines took place, fittingly, alongside an organizational process designed to surface our members’ current needs and goals and align the work of our staff accordingly. The aim of this year of listening and reflection was to create a new strategic plan: the expression of our goals and hopes for AAC&U and its members—and, by extension, for the communities, country, and world we inhabit—over the next five years.

AAC&U’s 2018–22 Strategic Plan, We ASPIRE: Advancing Student Performance through Integration, Research, and Excellence, was released this past January. Described by AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella in this issue of Liberal Education, it is at once a reaffirmation and a renewal, extending AAC&U’s longstanding commitments and infusing those obligations with new energy drawn from contemporary contexts. As social and technological forces threaten to ossify our country’s echo chambers, we are reasserting higher education’s critical role in promoting exploration of the unfamiliar. As new flares of animosity illuminate imposing divides, we are promoting healing and collaboration across racial, religious, and political differences. As social inequality seems increasingly acute, we are insisting on opportunity for all. And as the national discourse demands education narrowly tailored for employment, we are elevating education that is broadly conceived in the interest of perfecting our flawed and unfinished democracy.

Importantly, we are asserting the interconnectedness of the different elements of AAC&U’s mission “to advance the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy.” Here, quality and equity are equally critical to higher education, inseparable from each other and from the goal of educating for democracy. In this issue’s featured topic section, Elsa Núñez, Lenore Rodicio, and Richard Guarasci clarify and illustrate how these elements, each inevitably leading to the others, are vital to the educational and societal missions of their three distinctive institutions.

Sometimes taking stock reveals unexplored ideas, startling in their unfamiliarity, demanding a complete break from the past. Sometimes it illuminates truths we have long held dear, providing sustenance on long and uncertain journeys. In other cases, it brings nuance to the familiar, allowing for deeper understanding of the circumstances that surround us and of our own agency within and against apparent boundaries. The ability to take stock—to appreciate nuance and understand reality, but find ways of challenging circumstance—is among the critical outcomes of a liberal education, and is also an essential practice across the higher education landscape and at every institution. We invite you to join us in realizing the strategic goals developed during the past year of listening and reflection. We hope you see yourselves and your students reflected in them.

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