Dr. William G. Durden is president of Dickinson College and an alumnus (class of 1971).
Liberal Education-Our Intellectual Heritage
Dickinson College commits resolutely to offer its students the privilege and opportunity of the tradition of liberal education. Liberal education...
- intends to motivate individuals to thought and action for both leadership and engaged citizenship.
- liberates the mind from ignorance and cultivates social responsibility.
- confronts students relentlessly with issues that matter.
- asks students to engage ideas that they might not be inclined to, but as a result of which, they shall grow in intellectual maturity and character.
Liberal education is at once an uncomfortable and satisfying encounter.
Liberal education is more a way of thinking than specific content, although both are important. The specific disciplines of liberal education-all of which are to be engaged by the student-are called the Liberal Arts and comprise the humanities, social sciences, sciences and the arts. Liberal education embraces and addresses the way in which knowledge is actually used in the world of work and civil society.
Liberal education calls for a creative synthesis between liberal and practical education throughout the course of study. It is intentionally and ultimately pragmatic, while remaining conceptually rigorous. The ultimate accountability of a liberal education is the measure of its graduates to use knowledge thoughtfully in the wider world.
Dickinson College is committed to advancing among the general public a practical appreciation and support of liberal education not only for the College, itself, but also for all liberal arts institutions. Liberal education and the institutions that embrace it were envisioned by our nation's founding fathers as the most efficient and useful approach to education, an education necessary to establish and advance America's distinctive form of government and the qualities of a democratic society.
As such, a liberal education has served, and continues to serve, as an invaluable material asset to our nation. Dickinson College continues to commit itself to advancing this larger conception of a liberal education, a conception without which the United States of America loses its original and enduring distinction.
Dickinson College's Contribution to Liberal Education
Chartered in 1783 by a most spirited signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, just days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, and named for a signer of the United States Constitution, John Dickinson, Dickinson College represents a revolutionary, bold heritage in higher education. The College offers the world-now as then-a distinctively original form of American education and ambition.
A Dickinson education is one of revolutionary intent and reform. Dr. Rush argued vociferously that a Dickinson undergraduate curriculum should spark a major break with the course of studies offered by America's colonial colleges, all of which he believed to pursue a course of privileged, ornamental studies unreflectively inherited from England and unchanged for at least 250 years.
Such dated curricula, Rush maintained, were incapable of providing the dynamic, practical education required for those expected to lead in a society governed by a democracy in which privilege was to be earned by individual effort and invention, and where new, emerging knowledge was as critical, if not more so, than the old. To that end, Dr. Rush proposed at Dickinson the rigorous study of the sciences as an important part of a liberal education and as the most direct connection to emerging knowledge. He encouraged the study of modern languages-German, French, Italian-to balance the historical dependency exclusively on Greek and Latin.
Dickinson today remains committed to a revolutionary course of study that pursues, in close cooperation with its students, new knowledge and promotes generous connections across disciplines that yield progressive insights and emerging innovation that would not occur within the confinement of strictly defined academic disciplines. A Dickinson liberal education offers students the opportunity to completely and passionately engage in the pursuit of knowledge, talent and character for a noble purpose- to be useful through leadership and high accomplishment, and through citizenship, to advance a just, compassionate democratic system of government and the manners and society appropriate to it.
A distinctively Dickinson liberal education prepares bright, aspiring young people to commit to lives of substantive contribution in all fields of endeavor necessary to advance a vibrant, globally engaged democracy, including the law, medicine and health services, scientific research, the arts, business and finance, public service, education, community service, the military and religion.
A portion of this was adapted from Practicing Liberal Education and Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, Association of American Colleges and Universities.