Fiat Lux Address stimulates liberal education dialogue

Dr. Andy Hakin has posed the question, and now we look forward to the discussions that will ensue.

The second annual Fiat Lux Address (Sept. 27, 2012) was the purview of Hakin this time around, after President Mike Mahon gave the inaugural address in 2011. And from the outset of Hakin's presentation, the provost and vice-president (academic) made one thing abundantly clear – he was going to initiate a dialogue about liberal education and not conclude one.

"My intention today is to ask questions," said Hakin. "There's no solution here – if you're looking for a solution you're at the wrong talk."

Weaving a narrative that first spoke to the need to differentiate the University within the province's post-secondary landscape, Hakin paid homage to some of the institution's founders such as Drs. Owen Holmes and Luke Stebbins. He referred to conversations he'd had with former Provost Dr. Seamus O'Shea and Dr. Chris Nicol as he shaped is opinions on liberal education at the U of L.

"The need for differentiation within Alberta's post-secondary system has never been greater, for our students and for us," he said. "There are many things we could do but what are the right ones? It's a time for focus and a time to review the options that are in front of us."

One of those options is to take a real look at the liberal education ideal through the University's curriculum and to not be afraid to ask the hard questions.

"Is the GLER (general liberal education requirements) list a liberal education?" he asked. "I've been here 23 years and it doesn't seem to have evolved much from those lists. For some of our students, it becomes ticking off boxes to complete a degree – but is that a liberal education? I don't think so, and I think we have to be a little more purposeful."

Time and again, Hakin would go back to a common refrain, saying, "It's time to get into it."

He acknowledged there was a fear to open up the liberal education discussion, mainly because the University community is not entirely sure just what liberal education is today.

"It's not going to come, in a comprehensive academic and research institution, at the expense of the strength of our majors. This is not about downgrading the quality of our majors, but if we're serious about the quality of the whole of the degree that we offer, then we have to try and build an experience not just around the major but the whole beast."

Hakin challenged faculty, as the generators of curriculum, to examine their own thoughts on liberal education.

"I'm asking for us to reinvest in curriculum," he said. "We have strong programs and majors but I think we can do better. It's not that it's bad, I'm just asking the question, is it purposeful and does it address the needs of today's students and differentiate us in a manner that it could?"

He concluded by putting the conversation into historical context, harkening back to the University's founding principles, hashed out at the 1967 Waterton Conference.

"Liberal education has historically been very important to us," he said. "We need to ask, does it still have that importance to us as an institution? I know where I stand, I want to know where you stand."

Let the dialogue begin.

This story first appeared in the October 2012 issue of the Legend. To see the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.