Magazine article Liberal Education

President's Message

Magazine article Liberal Education

President's Message

Article excerpt

Many imagine that the summer is a slow time in the academy. And comparatively speaking, that may be true. This year, however, the summer months have been marked by momentous highs and lows for the higher education community. Across the country, higher education leaders applauded in late June the Supreme Court's affirmation that diversity in higher education is a compelling interest for the nation. AAC&U was pleased that in her majority opinion, Justice O'Connor affirmed that there is clear evidence of the educational benefits of diversity. She cited the amicus brief that focused on the research basis for this claim filed by AAC&U, along with the American Association for Higher Education and the American Educational Research Association. The court's decision represents a breakthrough victory for everyone who has made a long-term commitment to the value of campus diversity and an important victory for all those who believe that diversity has become an essential element of excellence in higher education today. While the decisions should surely be celebrated, everyone in the academy recognizes that far more work remains to be done.

Through a common statement after the ruling, AAC&U and many other higher education associations (see www.aacu.org) reminded the public and our colleagues throughout the academy that the Michigan decisions must be seen in the context of an ongoing struggle toward meaningful inclusion, equality, and opportunities to learn. As an Association, we have taken this historical moment to recommit ourselves to the unfinished work of creating a more just democracy. As our statement suggests, we must 1) work with our K-12 colleagues to ensure that all students are prepared for both college access and success; 2) confront and close the achievement gap within higher education; and 3) ensure that students of all backgrounds acquire the knowledge and capacities they need for a world that is at once diverse, interdependent, fragmented, and deeply unequal.

Unfortunately, conversations about education here in Washington this summer do not bode well for moving this democratic agenda forward. Building on the No Child Left Behind Act passed last year, the U.S. Congress began hearings this summer in preparation for the pending reauthorization of the higher education act. In this context, Congress is considering an approach to quality and accountability that is all too likely to distort rather than assist the commitment to access and student success that most campuses want to embrace.

It is clear from our work with nearly 900 AAC&U member colleges and universities all across the country that many institutions have launched very exciting efforts to improve the quality of undergraduate learning for a much more diverse set of students with varying levels of academic preparation than the academy has ever seen before. Leaders in Washington, however, seem utterly unaware of these efforts to prepare students more successfully for a complex, turbulent, and knowledge-intensive world. Too many of those now debating "quality and accountability" hold a disturbingly impoverished view of what powerful learning in higher education is really all about. The potential damage is compounded by new proposals to cap tuition increases, at the very moment that both state support and endowments are plummeting.

The national dialogue we really need about quality in higher education isn't centered on measuring basic skills with standardized tests in which every question has a single, certifiahly pre-determined "correct answer. …

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