Suggested Reading: Beyond the University

Michael S. Roth, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014)

“When I began my freshman year at Wesleyan University almost forty years ago, I had only the vaguest notion of what a liberal education was. My father (like his father before him) was a furrier, and my mother sang with a big band before she decided to start a family. Giving their children access to a college education was part of their American dream, even if campuses sometimes seemed to them like foreign countries. Now I serve as president of the same institution at which they first dropped me off, and where I stumbled into courses like Intro to Philosophy and Abnormal Psychology. Much has changed in higher education since my student days. At highly selective schools, many undergraduates now behave like consumers, arriving on campuses with specific demands and detailed plans for their eight semesters. Many are intent on building resumes by choosing to double-major and accumulate credentials to match what they imagine to be an employer’s expectations. Parents check that the facilities of the institution meet their standards of comfort and sophistication and want to be reassured that their student will develop specific skills that will justify the extraordinary financial investment that many private colleges and universities require.” (1-2)

Questions to Consider:

  1. What’s your response to the conclusion that “a broad education that sets the foundation for a lifetime of learning can seem impossibly idealistic” (2)?
  2. Roth defines a liberal education as “the combination of the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of how one learns as a whole person” (4-5). In what ways does Hope College provide a “liberal education”? What kinds of responses do seniors give when asked to reflect on the extent to which Hope has taught them to “learn as a whole person”? Surely we could do more for them, but what? Instructors in the Senior Seminar program, like those who teach capstone courses in the majors and minors, are in a privileged position to see the effects—great and small—of Hope College’s liberal education on its students. What have you learned from teaching seniors that might inform how best to teach first-year students, sophomores, or juniors?
  3. Is the claim that “broadly based, self-critical and yet pragmatic education matters today more than ever, and that it matters far beyond the borders of any university campus” (10) something we need to defend only to those outside the academy? Or do we need to articulate and justify this argument to ourselves, too? What might be the value of having an internal conversation about the value, meaning, and purpose of the liberal arts?
  4. Is Roth’s section on MOOCs an unnecessary and soon-to-be-outdated aside? How might—and/or should—new instructional technologies shape a liberal education?


Note: Neither I nor the Senior Seminar Program necessarily endorse all or any of the views, perspectives, or pedagogical practices in the readings that I recommend. Rather, I hope to stimulate and foster meaningful discussion and dialogue, which often means reading texts that you might find challenging and/or in opposition to your own attitudes and perspectives. Therefore, I hope that you find this suggested reading thought provoking.