by April Sweeney
Associate Professor of Theater, Department of English
In regards to the updated Strategic Plan I would like to voice my observations, comments and a few questions. Firstly, I would like to say that I appreciate and understand the hard work that went into the process of creating such a document from everyone who was asked to be involved. It is hard work. It is also incredibly important, I believe, that the faculty have input in developing and ensuring the vision and the path of the University. It goes without saying that we are all dedicated and passionate educators, scholars, and artists who care deeply about the quality of the education that we stand behind. I also understand the Strategic Plan as a framing document for how Colgate will face important challenges and “guide the school for years." In light of this statement, I find the document problematic. Colgate is striving to be one of the “world’s most vibrant liberal arts institutions” it is “committed to fostering a creative and expansive learning community dedicated to preparing individuals who can think for themselves." The University is “committed to the belief that learning takes place in many settings” and under increasing scrutiny of the liberal arts, Colgate “remains committed to our vision of educating the whole person-intellectually, morally, and physically both at home and in the interconnected world."
Therein lies the rub.
It seems to me we are missing something and I think that Plato and Aristotle might agree: the fine and performing arts. They are part of the liberal arts. They are part of the liberal arts project. If we are interested in our students being “unafraid to ask important questions, prepared for a life of civic engagement, social responsibility, and meaningful contributions to their communities and society” you cannot leave out the Arts, the fine and performing arts. You also cannot think of it as only a tool “for success in recruiting and retaining diverse students and faculty” and as an object that is “crucial to the cultural vibrancy of our community." It is that and much more. The fine and performing arts include disciplines that are vital to the construction of knowledge. The disciplines do not stand alone locked in a room; they are alive and integral to educating the whole person. It is curriculum -- not extracurricular. Theater, as one example, is the act of inquiry. It is making. It is constructing, engaging, provoking, and questioning both society and community. Its history and legacy, which is standing the test of time, is vast and ripe not only in terms of aesthetics, but full of civic engagement, revolution, meaningful contributions, social responsibility, and a deeply rooted connection to the examination of the self.
The additions regarding the arts in the Strategic Plan, which were to reflect the views expressed at the faculty meeting and forums is a step, yet unsatisfactory. It is general, I believe it misses the vital connection of the performing arts to our curriculum and mission, and it suggests no institutional memory of the last strategic plan. To be also totally frank and honest, and why not, I found it insulting. The reasons are for a much longer and wider conversation that I would be happy to have. However, back to the plan: It states that in 2020 “we will, of course, have further opportunities to enhance Colgate’s position as a leading liberal arts university." That Colgate will then begin to consider expanding facilities in the performing arts, which I take to mean Colgate will consider having the conversation of the place and importance of the performing arts to its curriculum and mission.
That is too late.
In thinking about the enduring value of the liberal arts the strategic plan suggests the viability of Colgate’s “form of education” has come under unprecedented scrutiny and that the University will have to make the strongest possible case for the “kind” of liberal arts education it offers. It seems to me the most important question occurring at this moment is: What “kind” of liberal arts education is Colgate pursing? This question has not been answered sufficiently by the faculty and administration as a whole. In fact, I do not know if the conversation has truly begun. Why are we afraid of it? Should we be?
If the Strategic Plan is to be a framing document or blue print for crafting the campus for “our new century” it is lacking. It has amputated an entire limb from the liberal arts. We will be handicapped as a result. Do we want to be? As Laura Skandera Trombley, President of Pitzer College, suggested at the 36th Annual Fulbright conference: “The liberal arts shouldn't need a college president flying around the country defending their honor; they do need all of us to come together to develop a chorus of voices to talk, paint, sing, build, heal and invest in the liberal arts because to continue to devalue and question their relevancy is to question the relevancy and value of knowledge itself.”
Post script: a few questions, observations, comments regarding the Strategic Plan:
- Why did the university borrow 12.8 million dollars to complement the $25 million garnered by the fundraising committee to complete the new athletic facility? I thought that at a faculty meeting last year we were told that the new athletic facility would only happen if all of the funding was raised. Was I misinformed?
- Why is the CAC called the Center for Arts and Culture? It is obviously a Center for Fine Arts and Culture. I think it is quite dissembling not to name it appropriately. I think it would be brilliant to build a Center that is more ambitious and would include the performing arts along with a museum for fine art and culture but that is not what is being done.
- Why is it “unlikely that there will be significant opportunities to mobilize fundraising to help the campus evolve”? This statement is in reference to campus master plan. Surely, if you can raise $25 million dollars for an athletics facility you would be able to raise funding for infrastructure that supports, enhances, and deepens the liberal arts mission of the University.