Category Archives: Uncategorized

ELAI publishes an indicative list of research literature on European Liberal Arts

As part of collecting scholarship relevant for study of European Liberal Arts initiatives, me and Tim Hoff have recently published a preliminary collection of most relevant books, special issues, articles and chapters. We have deliberately limited this list to pieces directly relevant to liberal arts scene in contemporary (post-1989) Europe, excluding for example US and historical literature, and tried to strike a good balance between relevance and comprehensiveness. The list would updated with new publications, and feel free to suggest ones that we have omitted.

ELAI goes live

European Liberal Arts Initiative (ELAI) website goes live today, as a result of collaborative work of Tim Hoff (Hamburg) and Daniel Kontowski (Winchester). The first task of the initiative is to create a public database of liberal arts programs in Europe: public and private, grassroots and connected to American institutions. ELAI database lists now 80 programs with various organizational, philosophical and pedagogical arrangements. Visit www.liberal-arts.eu to learn more.

refugee paper published

The article on refugee support in higher education systems in Poland and Austria, that I coauthored with Madelaine Leitsberger, has been published (online first) in European Educational Research Journal as “Hospitable universities and integration of refugees: First responses from Austria and Poland”, DOI: 10.1177/1474904117719593. We discuss first responses (late 2015 and early 2016) in Poland and Austria, showing widespread support organised with little government support (or interruption), and we propose to view those through the lens of hospitality rather than human rights or economic advancement. What happened after May 2016 is, of course, a different story – especially with political U-turn in Poland. Still, as little has been said about our two countries, and immediacy and scale of those first were quite remarkable, there might be something to learn from their cases.

It can be accessed here.

The regional and the local

While I continue my work on the origins of liberal education in Europe, especially „Artes Liberales Association” that was active between 1996 and 2001 in Central and Eastern Europe, I am happy to report two things that might be of some interest.

 

First of all, Educational Philosophy and Theory has published some thought provoking articles on liberal arts in Europe. They merit particular attention because they are student contributions, which is heartening for both generational renewal of the movement towards more liberal education in the region, and because of the visibility such renowned platform might bring to it. Some of the articles are work originally prepared for 1st Liberal education student conference at Leuphana University Luneburg in 2016, though considerably improved by the authors and prof. Nigel Tubbs from University of Winchester and Jakob Dirksen. A lot of good work, so without further ado, those articles are (online first):

Bergland, B., 2017. The incompatibility of neoliberal university structures and interdisciplinary knowledge: A feminist slow scholarship critique. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1857(July), pp.1–6. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341297.

Claus, J., Meckel, T. & Pätz, F., 2017. The new spirit of capitalism in European Liberal Arts programs. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (June), pp.1–9. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341298.

Cooper, N., 2017. Evaluating the liberal arts model in the context of the Dutch University College. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (July), pp.1–8. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341299.

Haberberger, C., 2017. A return to understanding: Making liberal education valuable again. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (June), pp.1–8. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2017.1342157.

Lundbye Cone, L., 2017. Towards a university of Halbbildung : How the neoliberal mode of higher education governance in Europe is half-educating students for a misleading future. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (June), pp.1–11. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341828.

Smith, A.J., 2017. Economic precarity, modern liberal arts and creating a resilient graduate. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (June), pp.1–8. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341826.

Tidbury, I., 2017. Is twenty-first-century liberal arts modern? Educational Philosophy and Theory, (July), pp.1–7. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1341827.

 

 

On another note, as the (another) reform of Polish higher education, with a fancy name “Bill 2.0”, is getting in its final stage, technical solutions become a spot of collective academic attention. If the overall aim is to increase the potential of Polish universities – or “catch up” with Europe and the US, and among the means to this aim are performance based funding based on outputs (publications and grants), it might not be a bad idea to make Polish audience aware of models already implemented. As “ministerial registries” of academic journals, with individually assigned points every year, haunt the imagination of Polish scientists, it might not be the optimal solution. “Nauka i Szkolnictwo Wyższe” (‘Science and Higher Education’) asked me to translate for the Polish audience an article by prof. Gunnar Sivertsen from NIFU who developed the so-called “Norwegian model”, which, though not ideal, is said not to discriminate against the humanities and social sciences, increases transparency and access to scientific outputs. I would like to thank Emanuel Kulczycki and Krystian Szadkowski for their comments and editorial work. The translation can be accessed here:

Sivertsen, G., 2017. Finansowanie oparte na publikacjach – Model norweski (tłum. D.Kontowski). Nauka i Szkolnictwo Wyższe, 1(49), pp.47–60.

Streamlining research on European liberal education

What am I working on right now?

  1. A study of the first leaders in contemporary European liberal education. Eight first leaders of surviving institutions, eight countries, eight long interviews conducted 2016-17, transcribed and currently coded and reflected upon. Preliminary results to be presented at ECER 2017 in Copenhagen and CHER 2017 in Jyvaskyla (both in late August). This would ultimately form the core of my dissertation to be defended in 2018.
  2. A conceptual analysis of research on contemporary liberal education in Europe. As a warm-up, I wrote an article pointing towards possible pathways of using discourse analysis to unbundle what people might mean when they speak of liberal education in contemporary Europe (Kontowski, D., 2017. Notes on liberal (arts) education discourse. Kultura – Społeczeństwo – Edukacja, 1(9) to be published shortly. But the proper piece is supposed to be published in 2018 (Kontowski, D., 2018. The concept of liberal education in Europe; two traditions and a way forward. In J. Huisman & M. Tight, eds. Theory and Method in Higher Education Research. Emerald Group Publishing Limited). The core argument as I see it now goes like this: historical-theoretical studies of liberal education dissect the diversity of the movement, but do not speak much of contemporary Europe; empirical-institutional studies focusing on liberal education in Europe operate on the unity/movement assumption, speaking of liberal education as a common trend as evidenced by using a common vocabulary; unless we find a way of merging insights of those two traditions, our understanding of contemporary European liberal education would remain superficial and uncritical; if we find a way of cross-pollinating their insights, we could better assess pluralism, common features, individual motivation and the system function of the phenomenon.
  3. A study of the first attempt to bring people interested in Europe together, “Artes Liberales” Association (1996-2001) that aimed at promotion of liberal education in Central and Eastern Europe and brought scholars and administrators from those countries into a dialogue with a number of US leaders in liberal education. The Association worked from the Educational Leadership Programme of Endeavour Foundation, and influenced a lot of thinking back then, but was unable to generate enough cooperation in the region and ultimately dissolved. The Association’s website has been taken down long ago, and apart from few bits of information scattered in newspapers and journals, not much is publicly available. But I was able to get access to the Association archives and interview people that played a role 20 years ago, therefore I am positive I will be able to learn from their experience – both conceptual differences in US/CEE understandings of liberal education, and bread and butter pains of international cooperation in the pre-Internet academia.
  4. Institutional diversity of liberal education programs and colleges in Europe. Hoping to bring a little order into a complex picture of European liberal education as presented by Godwin (2013) and van der Wende (2011), I have started working with Tim Hoff (a grad student at University of Hamburg) on the new database that is going to be publicly available, reliable and updated. First outcome is going to be published as a chapter in late 2017/early 2018 (Kontowski, D., 2017. Emerging alternative designs for higher education: Liberal arts initiatives in Europe. In S. Wright & R. W. B. Lund, eds. University Futures. Critical perspectives, alternative designs. Oxford: Berghahn Books), where I discuss in more details university colleges, liberal arts programs, liberal education in authoritarian countries and double-edged approach to liberal education in Winchester. In the chapter, I am interested to what extent this particular forms can bring much needed democratic revival to public universities. A version of this paper would be presented at Society for Values in Higher Education meeting in Boston, July 2017, and during EAIR conference in Porto in September 2017. The work on the database continues, with Tim presenting during our panel in Aarhus in November 2017 (conference The purpose of the future university).
  5. Student perspectives on their European liberal education. Together with David Michael Kretz and Jakob Dirksen we have edited a collection of 17 short narratives in which students discuss their experience of liberal education in Europe. Titled after the 1st Liberal Arts Student Conference in Luneburg in May 2016 (Dirksen, J.T.V., Kontowski, D. & Kretz, D. eds., 2017. What Is Liberal Education and What Could It Be? European Students On Their Liberal Arts Education), the collection is now looking for the best way to be published, which should generally happen over the summer.
  6. Small-scale curricular review of what is considered common core in liberal education programs and institutions in Europe. I am specifically interested in how many of them offer anything similar to Great Books or Core Texts as obligatory student experience. And if they don’t, what is considered obligatory instead? While this is certainly a topic for a detailed study, right now I want to scan through curricula of the programs in our database, count “classical” or “literary-heavy” approaches, and see whether some other elements (methodology? foreign language? big challenges?) aren’t by any chance more popular.
  7. Last but not least, the emerging interest of liberal arts vs. artes neoliberales. for quite some time I was baffled how the language of liberal education can be used for a competition-driven global knowledge economy agenda. If the way to defend and promote liberal education is through the usefulness – of critical thinking, adaptability, lifelong learning, problem solving, cultural awareness, effective communication etc. – then this marks for me a departure from at least the way liberal education was spoken about, if not essentially conceived. The pick and choose in the curriculum, creeping professionalism, internships and issues/innovation speak can very well attract students to liberal education programs for some new kind of reasons. As it has already been suggested in the literature that there was (in the 1990s, and still is) a demand for liberal education due to economic, political and social changes, I would like to investigate, hopefully through ethnography, how are institutions balancing the intrinsic ideal with instrumental reality of policy, parents and the job market. These negotiations do not have to follow any particular model, as we should remember how resilient academics can be in window-dressing the freedom based programs into vestiges of usefulness. While I will present the model for the study during the panel in Aarhus mentioned above in November, I would not expect the full study to be launched before 2018.

Getting the job done

Winter was time of delivering. I had to apply for more conferences and summer schools that I can readily count. But I also submit two grant proposals for work I could do starting in 2018. And on top of that, since last posting I moved apartments three times: hardly expected set of emergencies got in my way of doing the job properly. However, it seems now that I pretty much recovered and should soon get back on full steam.

In terms of my doctoral project, I executed last two interviews in January. With eight first leaders interviewed, I have now the empirical base for my comparison. I am very grateful to all professors involved: their generosity with time and attention has allowed the project to develop the way it was intended to from the start. I am now almost done with the transcriptions, and should have a draft of an empirical chapter ready by the time I leave New York in July. I also appreciate the fact that Dr Ulrike Ziemer from University of Winchester has agreed to offer her expertise as a third supervisor of my PhD.

Apart from a trip to Atlanta to meet with prof. Nikolay Kopossov and his wife prof. Dina Khapaeva, I attended AAC&U symposium in San Francisco in January. That allowed me to meet prof. Sheldon Rothblatt, who has obviously many things to say about what I do, including helpful criticism. I appreciate those talks, and I am grateful to prof. Anne MacLachlan for making the connection; hopefully, we would meet at CHER 2017 soon.

Along with the empirical part of my PhD, I am currently revising the theoretical chapter to submit to “Theory and Method in Higher Education Studies”. Or, I should rather say, I am writing anew a chapter, in a form of a journal article. It is probably going to be the most important piece I ever written, as I presents the rationale for what I do, both in terms of research gap and its significance. I want to make a case for combining empirical, comparative higher education studies done to date on the phenomenon of liberal arts global revival with the history of ideas approach that can be found in works on the tradition of liberal arts. Currently, it seems to me that both strands are barely connected, and the use of allegedly common concepts overshadows some fundamental differences in what is the purpose of liberal education, why is it offered, where and by whom. By the way, there is still no authoritative, complete and rigorous database/inventory of liberal education initiatives in Europe (Godwin 2013 was the most serious attempt in this direction, but has not been published nor updated, plus it omits some important programs); with Tim Hoff from University of Hamburg we are now trying to make the proper visual tool, and put up on an interactive website. Theoretical challenges considering the classification of those programs and their curricula are tremendous, but also fascinating.

As a follow-up to the UNIKE project, I have been co-thinking with prof. Davydd Greenwood and prof. Susan Wright about something that can be called neoliberal education. While there is indeed a growing number of liberal education programs worldwide, reasons for establishment and understanding of the ideal of liberal education vary. Some of them seem to be very close to creating easily adapting polymaths who would exercise entrepreneurial traits towards their curricula and careers, thus securing an edge in the knowledge economy as a new cosmopolitan elite. What has been written about Yale-NUS in Singapore suggest exactly this direction. While European programs do not yet seem to be getting to the point where you offer liberal education without mentioning critical thinking (see Chinese examples), overplaying of economic factors in some programs is evident. Given what historically has been considered the purpose of liberal education, and connotations it had even four decades ago in the US, such neoliberal arts as William Deresiewicz put it a fascinating from the point of both research and strategy for European liberal education. Maybe we should not be putting all developments in liberal education into one bag of “valuable innovation”. Or maybe we should. In any case, this topic warrants some more research: I applied for a scholarship to do this starting from 2018. Before that, I hope to scale up interest in European liberal education by a panel I proposed to Aarhus University conference on “The Purpose of the Future University” to be held in November. If accepted, I would be joined by first Professors of Liberal Arts and Sciences (and alumnus of first Dutch cohort of liberal education students) Teun Dekker from University College Maastricht, and Tim Hoff, at a liberal education panel there. This panel, quite fittingly, is actually called a symposium.

During those winter months, I also had to move the writing pipeline. An article on German Private Liberal Education, co-written with David Kretz, has been submit and already revised in last three months. Another article, this time a joint effort with Madelaine Leitsberger, dealing with the responses from university sector in Austria and Poland to the refugee crisis, is now in its third and hopefully final version to be published in European Educational Research Journal. Both are scheduled to be out in summer months.

Two articles in Polish have seen the light of day as well. The first one was written almost two years ago, and deals with the pedagogical credibility of liberal education narrative. Another, one that I really think can be of importance given the ongoing reform process of Polish higher education, is a Polish version of my MISH article – published in the best possible source in Poland, “Nauka i Szkolnictwo Wyższe” – a go-to source of higher education research in the country. Links to publications can be found on updated section of this website, whereas a descriptions of all research projects I am currently dealing with are on my ResearchGate profile.

The last thing that kept me busy was a collection of student essays on the experience of European Liberal Education. Jakob Tonda Dirksen and David M. Kretz are co-editing with me a this book that is going to be one of a kind. We have several good contributions, that underwent multiple editing rounds, to uncover a new ground in studying the topic. Reading students’ experiences is not only interesting in itself, but it also allows for a diversity of voices and accents, and what students (and alumni) focused on was largely different from what both institutions and researchers put into spotlight when talking of liberal education. We hope to have this published as an ebook before 2nd Liberal Education Student Conference to be held in early May in Freiburg.

So what now? My interviews have to be authorized and analyzed, “the paper” on theory of liberal education written, ebook finally put together and also I am looking forward to making a better use of my location at Wagner College and in New York City to conduct some more interviews. Let’s say this is the plan for April. It is going to get busy again.

 

What I am working on now

The best place to see research projects I am currently involved in is my ResearchGate profile. I am trying to post some updates, drafts and completed articles there. Compared to last year, my interest are now more streamlined, with the biggest chunks devoted to my dissertation. In the coming months, I will:

  • attempt to create an institutional comparison of liberal arts education programs in Europe,
  • transform my first chapter of my dissertation into a denser article on the concept of liberal education in Europe – suggesting that there is little consensus among people using the concept, and advocating for research that bridged philosophical literature and higher education studies of the topic;
  • transcribe the interviews with the first leaders of European liberal education programs and write up a comparative empirical piece looking for common threads and idiosyncrasies (aren’t all comparative pieces like it?). I hope that this might be my most important contribution, but it might take a while before it is ready.

Meanwhile, I have finally published some articles on liberal education in English. I described the first one (Kontowski, D. (2016) „The Paradox of “Practical Liberal Arts”. Lessons from the Wagner College Case for Liberal (Arts) Education in Eastern Europe”, Voprosy obrazovaniya / Educational Studies (Moscow), (3), ss. 80–109.) in more details in the first post from New York. Now I see it a little bit more clearly that what I experience at Wagner might fall into the category of “pragmatic consensus” (Bruce A. Kimball) within contemporary liberal education in the US. If so, my task for this year seems to find what is gained and what is lost in such approach, and how small institution like Wagner College might find itself more struggling to deliver on this than perhaps better endowed colleges.

Just yesterday, another article has been finally published:

Kontowski, D. (2016) ‘On the verge of liberal arts education: the case of MISH in Poland‘, Working Papers in Higher Education Studies, 2(1), pp. 58–94.

This is a work on MISH college at the University of Warsaw in Poland, the institution I graduated from and I owe much both educationally and as a person. I wrote it for three reasons. First of all, there are some things that were not set right in almost all the previous articles that mention MISH: as the institutional arrangement might seem opaque from the outside, I wanted to set the record straight. Secondly, I believe that the philosophy of liberal education, if this is not too big a word, that MISH operates under is a very peculiar one, and far reaching. Finally, MISH had some success in inspiring limited change in Poland and the region, but it did not receive in my opinion adequate attention. Most articles published on liberal education in Europe cover the Netherlands and recently the UK. I therefore invite you to the land between Germans and Russians, one that has its many gems and I believe MISH is one of them. Importantly, I think that MISH is in some ways done reforming higher education: it got mainstream, regulated, less audacious, and the role of educational laboratory has switched to Kolegium Artes Liberales UW. This article described the “older brother” of this institution, and the idea of the major figure behind both, professor Jerzy Axer who has retired this year. While I do not pretend to present any authorized reading of what he might or might not hoped to achieve through liberal education in Europe, I certainly believe that there is some food for thought in the pieces that I direct my attention to in my article. Personally, I believe that a grassroots way of describing the idea of liberal education in Europe that I attempted in this article might be the most promising avenue for further research on the topic.

Coming back to core curriculum?

Nicholas Lemann published an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Case for a New Kind of Core”. Lemann is a former dean of Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, and his intention is to strengthen liberal education through a return to core curriculum. What makes his proposal worth a closer look is that he actually proposes one, and critiques the previous attempt connected to AAC&U LEAP initiative. Finally, even though journalism in my opinion is not a liberal art, proposed curriculum is supposed to serve every avenue of college and graduate work by laying a foundation of what every educated person need to know. Or better still, do.

Let me start with the kernel of his argument, that strangely only starts at page six or so. Here is a list of eight one semester courses that are included in his proposal:

  • Information acquisition
  • Cause and Effect
  • Interpretation
  • Numeracy
  • Perspective
  • The Language of Form
  • Thinking in Time
  • Argument

To see this in perspective, Lemann’s core is methods, not content based. Therefore those eight courses are supposed to cover eight critical skills. It seems a bipartisan proposal, by on one hand avoiding any form of canonical knowledge (to the extent he proposes how this can be taught by various disciplinarian perspectives, and I would say stronger: in light of different values), and on the other by distancing itself from the 21-st century social issues agenda often pursued by the left-leaning institutions (think of American Diversity, or global cultures).

This proposal does not include any specific content courses, at least at the first glance. Therefore we do not have any of those: the Bible, DNA, coding, Great Books, public health, inequalities, scientific method, economics, foreign language, statistics, music, marketing, design, materials, visual planning etc., even though it is questionable if we should call somebody (college) educated if they have serious blanks in any of those. “What these courses” – says Lemann – “have in common is a primary commitment to teaching the rigorous (and also properly humble) pursuit of knowledge”. So they are supposed to lay the groundwork for future learning, and make students less likely to fall for blatant lies. At least this is my reading.

What I find the most striking, is that this list can be easily translated into a list of classic college courses that are fairly conservative:

  • Information acquisition – sociology of knowledge and a critique of sources
  • Cause and Effect – basic methodology
  • Interpretation – reading poetry
  • Numeracy – statistics
  • Perspective – epistemology
  • The Language of Form – painting and a frame
  • Thinking in Time – history
  • Argument – rhetoric

It is not clear why Lemann is so cautious about proposing them in such a form. Maybe because sounding obsolete would weaken his cause even before it is elaborated. Maybe. Maybe for strategic reasons not to alienate faculty and administration by proposing to offer a compulsory, core curriculum that is comprised of courses that on many campuses are given a short shrift, and they do not match the ambitions of the faculty. And remember, somebody has to teach them.

But maybe, and here I would like to turn to his critique of previous core curricula, the real reason is that this is not really new proposal. The most current approaches to general education are skills oriented: they try to capture the learning outcomes in terms of skills, and then ask students to select a number of courses from a skills-based distribution requirements. Lemann’s proposal does something similar, yet the skills are not defined by a human (reading, writing, speaking, counting etc.), but by a member of a knowledge community (critiquing sources, explaining causation, understanding relations, understanding assumptions, analysing context etc.).

What Lemann does not like in previous (yet contemporary) core curricula is that they put old wines in new bottles, overplay learning outcomes and assessment, use big words and pedagogy to obscure the content. But his proposal also uses big words (it is just OECD-EDU-fancier
“numeracy” than old-school “justice”), discusses just as much assingments as rationale, and does not explicitly say such courses should be designed anew and by whom. The fact that he does not say a word on pedagogy, which is I am afraid not a simple administrative issue of how many students and how much do they speak, is the only distinction.

This proposal offers eight semester-long courses that are supposed to be taken over first two years of college, and comprise just under half of undergraduate education at that time. If Lemann is correct to assume that high school graduates typically lack those skills, there is little point in offering them college-level courses before they acquire them.

This might be said to be an issue of completion – although Lemann is surprisingly ignorant as he sees 60% six year completion rate of a four year education as a result of lack of student preparation, and not skyrocketing debt. Bona fide social justice approach says: give them the tools to succeed in college. If so, this core curriculum should span over the first year, and fill the whole curriculum of the first year of college.

If this proposal does not explicly state that, it undermines the other assumption that a curriculum reform is needed, so rising cost and rising discount rate of this cost. Families do not believe they should go into so much debt just to have their children educated, especially in liberal arts. I strongly feel that Lemann does not believe that he could convince parents to pay so much for a year of basic-skills courses rather than something that said parents might not know themselves (and therefore feel more okay with paying a high price for). This makes Lemann’s proposal weak, as every revolutionary proposal based on compromise from day one.

More in that line, proposed curriculum does not speak anything about abolishing existing distribution requirements, which would be even more controversial form the perspective of faculty. But if we want to be consequential, we might put such general knowledge-oriented skills first, and then well-roundedness second. It would most likely squeeze out either the major, or the electives. As long as colleges are not willing to offer a higher course load (either six courses a semester, or summer terms because why not), there is always horse trading in any curriculum reform. Not making a case what we put out and why makes for a weak proposal.

A revolutionary proposal would look like this:

  • a year of skills based courses
  • a year of basic courses referring to most critical achievements of the past in a range of disciplines
  • a year of not-so-intro classes to 8 big areas of (academic) knowledge
  • a final year with concentrated classes in the new major, with a year long, team-based yet individually assessed research, ending with a public defense of a thesis

This would be not a small tweak in the system, but a fundamental change in how we perceive higher education. There would be some sort of logical progression between the years, with developing the mind capacities, then furnishing it with what influences the present in many ways, then taking students on a tour of current knowledge so they can see what excites them most, and finally doing a year of demanding research, with both acquiring and producing new knowledge and proving itself in front of the others as expert. Such curriculum would have no place for professional courses, which should rightly belong to graduate school. While it would not fully do away with hand-holding the poor, lost students by a concerned faculty (see it in Lehmann’s piece?), it would also challenge them to do the things they might not immediately like rather than opt out or postpone. It would make a lot of sense to offer team-based, yet single courses without the option for electives, because the principle of electives is based on a subject able to do the choices, and if Lemann is right, current students are not (even if it is not their fault). And if we still believe higher education works on a principle of Enlightment, critical thinking, or active citizenship, we must put our responsibility as educators first, and students freedom second, to both make college valuable and seen as such. After all, such a college would not be for everybody (this applies to Lemann’s, but he seems unaware), but it would offer something specific rather than anything goes.

Skills are not enough. We should stop pretending that you could learn writing in any class that makes you submit a written assignment. We should ask our students more. But we also have to make college a full time experience again, and create a financial system that would make it available to everybody. Finally, only after we disjoin the link between failing students and financial stability of institutions, we might make education seem worthy its price.

Liberal arts would not be saved by a tweak in the currently dominating system of not-so-small-cafeteria-option set of classes offered to students in between sport, drinking and holidays. The power of the research model has extended to colleges, and is increasingly putting a premium on mimicking serious research at a less advanced level, to the detriment of both students and professors. Career anxiety is, by definition, not entering any marriage with liberal arts. We need more thinking in a line that Lemann proposes – but this design has to be bold. For me, the measure of boldness would be for example requiring students to learn a foreign language. To make sure this language is foreign to all of them – so they are actually learning, not stratifying in terms of background – we might think of a dead, superficial, or specialist one. Or maybe a combination.

The subject of the university has never been the world around, nor the student. So Lemann got this right that he tries to put knowledge first, even though much of his concern seems superficial, not to say journalistic. We might enhance a curriculum like presented above by designing courses so that they can build on students skills brought from extensive use of mobile devices, or relate the course matter to pressing issues of today’s world. But the rationale to have something in the curriculum, or not have it, should be based in what we know about knowledge – nothing else. Not the major, not the cost, not completion anxiety, not the fear of Trump century, not the shortcomings of students, not what we used to have in whatever imaginary past of the universities.

Maybe no existing institution is ready and capable to make a revolutionary change in the curriculum; maybe we need a new one.

Autumn in New York

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Wagner College campus today

 

It has been much too long since I last posted. Well, life happens, but mostly uni life. I upgraded, attended several conferences, conducted 7 interviews for my dissertation (also across Europe) and arrived to New York. This is where I am now Fulbright Scholar at Wagner College.

Last year was a rollercoaster so I enjoy getting my daily routine of work in one place for a change. Wagner takes wonderful care of me, as I now have my own office with a meeting space, hardly normal conditions for a PhD student life. As you can see, it has one of the typical, lovely American campuses. There will certainly be a time that I write more about my small culture shocks and other things you only get to see when you are around for longer, not just visiting. Thanks to John Esser, who is kind of my guardian here, as well as Lily McNair, Jeffrey Kraus, Richard Guarasci, and obviously Fulbright Commission, I would work at Wagner. Incredible amount of time, at least compared to the time perspective I was used to.

While I still have some loose ends from before, I hope to get over it in the coming weeks so that I can focus on what is in from of me. First, it is small research project that I tentatively call “pragmatic consensus in action; trends in liberal education in the USA”. I believe that Wagner Plan for Practical Liberal Arts is comprehensive solution to some of the common tensions seen in American discourse on liberal education recently. So they are unique, in some ways, but the pressures they experience at Wagner are hardly unique. This work is an extension on my preliminary research that has just been published as an article in “Educational Studies. Moscow”. By the way, this is my first journal article, already bilingual (English and Russian). For the project, I attend fieldtrips, faculty meetings, as well as conduct interviews. I hope this to be a valuable addition to my knowledge of liberal education in comparative perspective.

To understand better what I see, I finally managed to find time to do some readings. There are many books to read obviously, but now I focus on new ones: “Paying the Price” by Sara Goldrick-Rab, and “The Great Mistake” by Christopher Newfield. This long-time attention given to one topic and one author is something that I really missed for some time now.

My work at University of Winchester obviously continues. I prepared two extended abstracts that are based on my upgrade submission, one conceptual and one empirical. Not exactly sure what I would do with them yet, but it helped me to see some broader relevance of my niche research. Just in September, I was awarded Vice-Chancellor Award for Excellence in Research, and a month later I was again happy to receive Julie J. Kidd ECOLAS Travel Research Fellowship. I plan to use both awards to pay for my American trips to consult my work that I plan to use for dissertation.

All of this require a better description. I plan to disclose all the papers/projects I am now working on in Research Gate, as well as update my publication record with MISH article that is in print in “Working Papers in Higher Education Studies” (in English) as well as “Nauka i Szkolnictwo Wyższe” (in Polish). I also think that I should finally transform this blog, both visually and content-wise, into a daily/weekly writing outlet in a first place, and a platform to think on my projects, questions and their connections. Occassionally, I might also refer to some other work that I do, “consulting” or saying my thing to people who I am not professionally connected but we often speak about higher education with regards to their projects. Or write a word or two on my plans, where am I headed in my life as a researcher. This would most certainly be done before the end of the year, and I hope that would give you more reasons to visit my blog than shameless blowing my own trumpet.

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Few thoughts from the train home

Last couple of weeks were incredibly intensive, but also refreshing for my thinking on wider relevance of my research. I have met so many inspiring young minds ready to engage in the debate on the future of higher education in general, and possible place for European liberal education in particular. 1st LESC was obviously first and foremost a spring of those discussions, but what surprised me was the level of personal care many students showed towards this particular form of studies. We are alike in a way: curiosity of a researcher mixed with a sense of gratitude of a student towards their institution and their teachers. Add to that international mix of students, and this sounds like a recipe for a great discussion. I hope the conversation will continue.

EUREDOCS was exceptional in another way. Group of just a dozen students have been joined by first-rate professors to engage in a dialogue that was professional, forward-thinking and intergenerational at the same time. Perfectly organized by Helen Perkins, Francois Smit and the rest of SRHE, I wish this intimate meeting might have taken place even more often than once every two years.

UNIKE rose up to the high expectations I had beforehand. Geographical, but also professional diversity of participants provided a crash course on the current challenges of higher education in (old?) times of knowledge economy. Seeing again all the people that so kindly accepted me to Oslo half a year before was so nice, and the perfectly calm atmosphere of Copenhagen worked great as a backdrop for catching up. It is impossible to name everybody, but I particularly remember lovely talks with Peter Maassen and Chris Newfield, Davydd Greenwood and Sue Wright, Pavel Zgaga and Rebecca Boden, as well as people doing great job at heterodox universities. I hope that the project will have a follow up it deserves.

Other brilliant folks that I met in Groningen and Lisbon, at summer schools of histories of education and sociology, provided useful comments, but maybe more importantly, challenged me to reframe my interests for different audiences. Format of a summer school, which allows for more in-depth discussion of particular research, as well as numerous non-formal interactions is an important element in formation of new researchers, that we should try to sustain and develop even when it is not very much rewarded for any party involved.

Finally, a conference convened by Marek Kwiek and Kristian Szadkowski in Poznań provided a great opportunity to meet higher education researchers in Poland. This seems quite basic, but as this milieu is in statu nascendi, it is a great opportunity in itself. One particular dimension of our discussions was “Ustawa 2.0”, so a coming prospect of new higher education law in Poland, one that might be inspired by a proposal coming out from the Poznań team. I brought with me not only a proposal to treat MISH/MISMaP as liberal education, but also watchdog reports from Fundusz Pomocy Studentom. Creating links and generating data and analyses might be the two most important tasks before researchers interested in higher education in Poland.

Last, but absolutely not least, I have finally started interviews for my PhD with the founding fathers of liberal education in contemporary Europe. Hans Adriaansens was very generous to talk with me at lengths. I am particularly happy that we were able to go in-depth into Dutch university colleges, beyond the obvious and general into more strategic, historical and organizational details that might help me write a better dissertation.

After a change of schedule, it now seems that I will have my upgrade viva in mid-August, which means I have to complete my literature review and methodology by the end of July. Thus I am very grateful for all the feedback that I was able to receive for both my study design and partial results during last weeks, from so different people. As not that many of us know about the idea and practice of liberal education in Europe, I look forward to writing a post for this blog alongside more personal document, expressing my rationale for the study and wider “so what”. I think this might help me structure the whole project that went through numerous iterations and transformations.

But probably before that happens, I need couple days off. This year was extremely strenuous, and the summer looks not less intensive. Reflecting on the discussions, remembering faces of those who generously shared their opinions and time to help me improve the thinking, and feeling grateful for how, after all, everything seem to fit in the final instances – this is the task for the coming days. I consider myself extremely lucky, and I hope that one day I will be able to give back much more than what I am now receiving.

One possible path to do that would be to transform this blog into more of a work-in-progress thought diary and less of a narcissistic exercise. As everything, this would require my most scarce resource – time – yet the benefits would be ever bigger.

Right now, to all of you – especially those not mentioned by name in this post – my deepest thanks.