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Does Liberal Education Need Saving?

The 2016 Annual Weissbourd Conference Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts The University of Chicago

May 19–20, 2016

Ida Noyes Hall Third floor theater 1212 East 59th Street

The conference organizers would like to thank Deborah Neibel for her unstinting support and assistance.

D oes liberal education need saving? Some

would consider an affirmative reply obvious.

Under pressure from academic professionalization,

corporatized universities, and a society obsessed with practical outcomes, liberal education must be championed anew or risk disappearing. Others argue that liberal education is at best a luxury that our society can no longer afford, at worst an elitist agent that reinforces social inequalities. To such minds, shifts away from liberal education are no reason to lament. And then there are those who dismiss the prophets of doom, arguing that liberal education remains alive and well on college campuses today. Articles debating these issues regularly appear in the popular press and the last years have seen numerous books published on the subject. And yet, for all the talk much confusion persists and certain fundamental questions remain ill-explored. This conference brings together historians, theorists, administrators, and educators to discuss the meaning of liberal education, the roles it has played through history, and its purposes and prospects for the future.

Conference Schedule

May 19

/ Keynote Addresses


Martha Nussbaum Talbot Brewer Gabriel Richardson Lear, moderator


Light Refreshments


Dinner for Conference Participants at Nana Organic, 3267 S. Halsted Avenue

May 20

/ Panel Discussions


Welcome from conference organizers Aviva Rothman & Aaron Tugendhaft


The History of Liberal Education

Carlos Fraenkel Anthony Grafton Lorraine Daston Haun Saussy Ada Palmer, moderator


Liberal Education in the Modern University

Julie A. Reuben Alison Byerly Theodore O’Neill Eugene Lowe Nina Valiquette Moreau, moderator




Education, Democracy, and Social Justice

Bryan Garsten Micere Keels Rana Saadi Liebert Sara Goldrick-Rab Stacie Kent, moderator


The Task of the Liberal Educator

Roosevelt Montás Karim-Yassin Goessinger Daniel Doneson Susan Henking Ian Desai, moderator


Wine & Cheese Reception at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue

Conference Participants

Talbot Brewer is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Virginia. His 2014 article “The Coup That Failed: How the Near-Sacking of a University President Exposed the Fault Lines of American Higher Education” tackles the question of how liberal education is to be best defended.

Alison Byerly is President of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She has served as a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges and has published essays in Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lorraine Daston is a Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and a regular Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She is currently studying the emergence of Big Science and Big Humanities in the nineteenth century.

Daniel Doneson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Engineering at MIT, where he co-coordinates and teaches for the Ben Franklin Project and the concentration in Society, Engineering and Ethics (S.E.E.).

Carlos Fraenkel is James McGill Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Jewish Studies at McGill University. He is the author of Teaching Plato in Palestine:

Philosophy in a Divided World.

Bryan Garsten is Professor of Political Science and the Humanities, and Chair of the Humanities Program at Yale University. Garsten was a Fellow of the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education and served as Chair of a committee overseeing the development of a common curriculum in the liberal arts for Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She founded the Wisconsin Harvesting Opportunities for Post- secondary Education (HOPE) Lab in 2014 and received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Early Career Award in the same year.

Karim-Yassin Goessinger founded the Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS) in 2013. He currently serves as Program Director and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. In addition to his interests in social and political theory, Goessinger is concerned with the intersection of post-secondary education and development work.

Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University. He has written numerous books about liberal education in Europe from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Grafton also regularly engages in broader public debates on the status of the humanities, the problems facing new career scholars, and the importance of scholarly collaboration.

Susan Henking is President of Shimer College in Chicago. She has published widely on leadership in higher education and is founding series editor of the Teaching Religious Studies Series for Oxford University Press.

Micere Keels is Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development and a Faculty Affiliate with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on the intersection of liberal education, gender, and race.

Rana Saadi Liebert is a site director and faculty member of the Bard Prison Initiative, an innovative college-in-prison program sponsored by Bard College. She has taught in the Classics Department at the University of Chicago, and in

the Classical Studies Program, the Language and Thinking Program, and First-Year Seminar at Bard College.

Eugene Lowe is Assistant to the President at Northwestern University. He has written on racial diversity and higher education, and has chaired university-wide committees on the status of underrepresented minorities and integrity in intercollegiate athletics.

Roosevelt Montás is Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum at Columbia University. He regularly lectures and writes about the history and future of liberal education.

Martha Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Law School and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Nussbaum’s work spans widely across philosophy, literature, and law. She is the author of Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education and Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

Theodore O’Neill worked for twenty-seven years in the admissions office at the University of Chicago, twenty of them as Dean of College admissions. He currently teaches in the University of Chicago’s Humanities Core Curriculum.

Julie A. Reuben is Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education at Harvard University. She is the author of Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality and has written articles related to campus activism, access to higher education, curriculum changes, and citizenship education in the public schools.

Haun Saussy is University Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and in the Committee on Social Thought at University of Chicago. Saussy is a leading scholar of Chinese and comparative literature.

The Weissbourd Fund

Bernard (Barney) Weissbourd enjoyed a life-long connection with the University of Chicago, beginning at age 15 when he received a full scholarship to attend the College. In these first years, Weissbourd was captivated by the University’s intellectual life, his concentration in chemistry, and especially his study of the classics, a staple of the curriculum in the Hutchins era. When he graduated in 1941, he entered the law school. WWII interrupted his studies, but he remained at the University, having been assigned to work on the Manhattan Project, where he contributed to the discovery of an element. At the war’s end, he returned to the law school and became an editor of the Law Review before graduating in 1948. He served the University as an active member of the Board of Trustees and as Trustee Emeritus until his death in 2000 at the age of 78. Weissbourd was a scientist, attorney, urban planner, and a developer who had a dramatic impact on the skyline and the life of Chicago. He maintained a lifelong interest in civic affairs, working on issues ranging from race and poverty to nuclear arms. His interest in the relationship between human psychology and social institutions led him to found the Center for Psycho-Social Studies in the early 1970’s. The Center became an important location for interdisciplinary dialogue, intellectual exploration, and the nurturing of promising young scholars. The Bernard Weissbourd Memorial Fund for the Society of Fellows pays tribute to Barney Weissbourd’s history of involvement with the University. The Fund reflects his abiding commitments to spirited inquiry, the excitement of learning, the power of discourse, and through all of these, the pursuit of a more just and humane society. In addition to the annual spring conference, the Fund supports a Fall Symposium, and Society meetings and seminars throughout the year.

Made possible by

The Society of Fellows

The Bernard Weissbourd Memorial Fund

The College

The Franke Institute for the Humanities


The John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The Craft of Teaching in the Academic Study of Religion


The Departments of Classics

The Department of East Asian Studies

The Department of History

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

The Department of Philosophy

5751 S. Woodlawn Ave. Chicago, IL 60637 t: 773.752.4381 e: m–f: 8:30 am–8 pm
5751 S. Woodlawn Ave. Chicago, IL 60637 t: 773.752.4381 e: m–f: 8:30 am–8 pm

5751 S. Woodlawn Ave. Chicago, IL 60637 t: 773.752.4381 e:

m–f: 8:30 am–8 pm sat: 10 am–6 pm / sun: 12 pm–6 pm

Select titles on liberal education currently on display Present this program for 10% off any one purchase thru May 22

Founded by a handful of book lovers in 1961, Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore is now widely regarded as one of the best academic bookstores in the world, housing an extensive collection of scholarly titles with a focus on the humanities and social sciences.

The Craft of Teaching (CoT) is the University of Chicago Divinity School’s program of pedagogical development for its graduate students, dedicated to preparing a new generation of accomplished educators in the field of religious studies. We bring together faculty, current students, invited guests, and an extensive alumni network of decorated teachers to share strategies, develop skills, and advance critical reflection relating to religious studies pedagogy. View our upcoming program schedule and access our resource library at

studies pedagogy. View our upcoming program schedule and access our resource library at