Many of you have asked what I have been doing since stepping down from the presidency of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in June 2016. This letter provides an update.
I said in 2016 that “I am not so much retiring as opening a next chapter – a chapter to be created with colleagues and friends.” Now well into my redeployment, I realize that I was actually opening a new “compilation,” with lots of different chapters, and with my own learning about a very fast-changing educational and democracy landscape becoming the integrative theme.
More on that below. But first the good news that my younger son, Adam, now has two adorable children, who remind me every week that new learning is joyous! You can find pictures of Tate (born 2016) and Teagan (born 2019) here. I’m blessed that Adam, Matthew and their wives, as well as Tate and Teagan, live near me in Washington, DC. Beth is much farther away in Texas, but thanks to the magic of technology—and shared feminism—we stay very close. You can find pictures of my Texas grandchildren here.
And now a few notes on my recent and current work.
Since the fall of 2020, I’ve devoted most of my time to the formation of a new college civic learning initiative, titled the Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement Coalition (CLDE). The Coalition is a collaboration among five major higher education organizations: AAC&U, Campus Compact, College Promise, Complete College America, and State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). We are partnering with dozens of higher education organizations, including the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia, all the institutional accreditors, and several state systems.
The CLDE goal is to ensure that making college-level civic and democracy learning expected, inclusive, and empowering for today’s diverse learners. You can follow our work at www.collegeciviclearning.org.
From 2017 through 2021, I was an advisor to Lumina Foundation, assisting with their efforts to make higher learning a catalyst for underserved student talent development. The big idea is that higher learning should become more intentional, more equitable, and more effective in connecting higher learning with work, civic participation and student’ own lives.
Lumina leaders asked me to assist with one of the foundation’s big quality/equity investments, a National Association of System Heads (NASH) project on “scaling student success” that helped institutions in four state systems make student participation in high impact educational practices—a quality learning marker—expected, high quality, and equitable. In this context, interviewed faculty, student success, and other campus leaders in Wisconsin, Georgia, Tennessee, and Montana for a long report on faculty leadership for quality and equity reforms.
What I learned from this work is that equitable participation in quality learning is emerging as a much-needed new frontier in the “student success” movement. Faculty recognize that “completion” is not enough; we need to ensure that students graduate well prepared for a world of complexity, diversity, innovation, and ever-accelerating economic, societal, and climate change. I’ve included a graphic that shows my own take on how campuses can respond to “The Quality Equity (QE) Imperative.”
Much of what I learned from work on the Lumina/NASH initiative has influenced my approach to the CLDE Coalition: especially the realization that change at scale requires systems thinking, with leadership at the ground level and enabling, energizing support from policy leaders
Across all these different spheres of work, I’ve been encouraged to see how many institution have embraced different aspects of AAC&U’s LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative—especially the Essential Learning Outcomes, the High Impact Practices, the VALUE rubrics for assessing students’ completed work, and, above all, the determination to make educational excellence inclusive rather than exclusive.
I also found that—as the national report A Crucible Moment recommended in 2012—higher education is starting to make civic learning and engagement expected rather than optional for students pursuing degrees. With democracy under serious attack both at home and abroad, engaging students with their own role in sustaining a just and inclusive society is, beyond doubt, the most important educational task we have.
The work I have been doing since 2016 has only deepened my lifelong commitment to the value and power of liberal education—for all students, and not just some students. And, in that context, I’ve been writing (as well as speaking) about new directions in the ethos and practice of liberal education.
In 2021, AAC&U published my history of the organization’s leadership for liberal learning, titled Making Liberal Education Inclusive Liberal Education Inclusive: The Roots and Reach of the LEAP Framework for Liberal Learning. You can see one part of my analysis in an article I published for Change Magazine: “From Cloistered to Connected: The Practical Turn in American Liberal Education.”
In sum, these latest chapters in my life are both challenging and rewarding. I do make time for fun and travel (and many, many pandemic movies!) with my partner of many years. But what energizes me still is fulfilling the promise of college for all learners and doing all we can to help renew our troubled and divided democracy.
With warm regards to all—