Association of American Colleges and Universities: Presidents' Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning (CALL)

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As educational leaders and presidents of colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, two-year and four-year, we call on our colleagues around the country to ensure that every college student experiences the full benefits of a twenty-first century liberal education.

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With this Presidents' Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning (CALL) and the forthcoming Greater Expectations National Panel report on the learning students need in the 21st century, AAC&U is urging, in effect, an "honors" education for all students. AAC&U released the following statement in January 2002. As of June 2002, over 415 campus presidents and ten higher education organizations have signed on in support of the Presidents' CALL. AAC&U welcomes additional signatories.

Especially since September 2001, Americans have been catapulted into a powerful sense of engagement with peoples, places, histories, and ideologies that many of us previously knew only dimly. Our entire society is now caught up in quests for deepened understanding, and in re-examinations of the most basic questions about social trust, civic duty, international justice, world cultures, and sustainable health.

While much in our present situation is unprecedented, our intense need for both knowledge and wisdom also reminds us of essential truths that we have long known, but recently neglected.

Chief among these is the Jeffersonian recognition that democracy depends for its vitality upon education, while education serves democracy best when it prepares us for just the kinds of questions we face now: questions about the wider world, about our own values, and about difficult choices we must make as both human beings and citizens.

Our new hunger for deepened understanding, however, finds Americans standing at an educational crossroads. For the first time in our own or any nation's history, the great majority of Americans not only desire higher education for themselves and their children, but actually enroll in some form of postsecondary education. We have become the first nation to encourage near-universal participation in higher learning.

Yet even as students of all ages flock to college, many of them are not enrolled in the kind of studies that will prepare them well for the challenges of our turbulent and interdependent world.

The approach to higher learning that best serves individuals, our globally engaged democracy, and an innovating economy is liberal education. Liberal education comes in many shapes and forms in the contemporary academy, but in every one of those forms, its aims include:

* developing intellectual and ethical judgment;

* expanding cultural, societal and scientific horizons;

* cultivating democratic and global knowledge and engagement; and

* preparation for work in a dynamic and rapidly evolving economy.

In recent years, however, public attention has focused mainly on the last of these aims. Both public policy and popular culture have strongly encouraged students to view college learning as work preparation exclusively. This trend has been reinforced by the new practice of describing students as consumers who should study in college only what they want to learn, even when their preferences may leave them largely unprepared for the complex challenges they will face in their lives, as human beings and as citizens. …