The Aydelotte Foundation is committed to creating and circulating knowledge about liberal arts education in a moment when the fundamental ideas and histories that animate liberal arts education at all kinds of institutions are under attack. We want to help strengthen and support our collective ability to respond to them in a landscape in which higher education is increasingly divided into wealthy elite institutions and everyone else. We’re responding to a paradox in which institutions like Swarthmore aspire to become increasingly accessible in order to match their vision of education as a democratic, public good, and yet must locate their aspirations in the context of a larger world that is relatively inhospitable to that aim. Our research projects and programs reflect this understanding of the role of liberal arts in the current landscape of higher education.
We are very engaged with numerous questions about shifting enrollments in higher education. We’ve prepared a “briefing book” outline of common interpretations of these shifts and some of the most frequently advocated responses or solutions for our colleagues at Swarthmore. This is one of our most active areas of reading, commentary and further research.
The history of ideas and practices associated with vocational or practical training in liberal education, where those ideas and practices reside within all kinds of higher education institutions, and the perceived or imagined antagonism between liberal education and practical education, form one of our major interests. We are exploring both how the vocational and the liberal came to be opposed to one another, and we are also very interested in projects that overcome or rethink the history of these distinctions.
We spent time in 2017-18 tracking and thinking about the meaning of the term “liberal arts” and how the term circulates within and around higher education, in some ways a simpler local version of the WhatEvery1Says project. We’re curious about the revision or reconsideration of the term, and if so, what advantage that might accrue. We’re also interested in why some meanings or understandings meet with strong approval from diverse audiences: almost everyone approves, at least superficially, of the idea that liberal arts is defined by original, personal assemblies of knowledge and skills from different disciplines in pursuit of distinctive research, artistic representation or professional labor. We are not entirely certain if people actually accomplish that kind of fusion very often, but we want to keep thinking about it.
Throughout our work, the importance of public writing about higher education comes up again and again. We run a workshop series on public writing on Swarthmore’s campus, but we are interested more broadly in opportunities to think about the genres, practices, and possibilities of how faculty, staff, and students in colleges and universities write about higher education. We are especially interested in writing about how practitioners do write about teaching in higher education – and in why we don’t seem to write about teaching very much, especially given how central it is to higher education.