Liberal Education

From the Editor

The striking image reproduced on the cover of this issue depicts twenty-eight thousand oil barrels, each with a capacity of forty-two gallons. The quantity of oil those barrels could contain—equal to the flow of a medium-sized river—is consumed in the United States every two minutes. The cover image is part of an extensive and visually arresting series of large-scale composite images assembled by photographer Chris Jordan. Each image portrays a startling American statistic: 166,000 packing peanuts, representing the number of overnight packages shipped by air in the United States every hour; 410,000 paper cups, the number of disposable hot-beverage paper cups used in the United States every fifteen minutes; 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, representing the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005; thirty-two thousand Barbie dolls, representing the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the United States in 2006; and so on.

The 2009 annual meeting began following a daylong symposium on sustainability—a relatively new topic of serious academic study that, in our recent survey, was identified by 18 percent of AAC&U members as an area of learning addressed by their common learning goals. As sustainability is a major theme explored by Chris Jordan, the opening-night forum at which he presented a slideshow of his recent work provided an ideal transition between the preconference symposium and the annual meeting itself. A brief photo-essay in the Featured Topic section of this issue presents samples of Jordan’s work.

The section also carries the talk given by Peter Sacks on the subject of Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education, winner of the 2009 Frederick W. Ness Book Award. Established in 1979 to honor the president emeritus of AAC&U and presented at the annual meetings of the association, the Ness Award recognizes significant contributions to the understanding and improvement of liberal education.

Among the topics addressed at the annual meeting, the ongoing financial crisis was perhaps the most urgent. On the last day, time was set aside for informal roundtable discussions on “the Economy and Higher Education.” Participants shared strategies for coping with falling endowments, budget cuts, the “affordability challenge,” and other financial pressures. The roundtables began with opening remarks by Peter Facione, whose sage advice is published here.

The issue begins, however, with the keynote address delivered by Martha Nussbaum at the 2008 annual meeting. Nussbaum has continued to develop the themes outlined in her address, and the Princeton University Press will publish a book-length treatment of them next year.

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