Small colleges boost liberal arts by tapping big-campus resources
New York — ``We want to reaffirm the centrality of the civilizing portion of our curriculum, the part that goes to the heart and soul as well as the mind.'' Stephen Trachtenberg, president of the University of Hartford, is explaining why he and his institution became involved in the new Faculty Resources Network, based at New York University. At the same time, he is articulating a vow heard increasingly on college and university campuses: that the humanities and liberal arts have no intention of being pushed aside in this age of high technology and heavy trade.
The University of Hartford is one of nine small colleges in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that are beefing up their humanities programs by linking into the network. NYU is offering the colleges two avenues of participation. First, each college is invited to send up to 15 ``university associates'' to visit NYU and use its extensive liberal arts facilities and resources. A visiting scholar could, for example, audit university courses or have library privileges.
Second, two faculty members per college will be designated for the ``Scholars in Residence'' program. These individuals, termed ``mid-course scholars'' by NYU program head Leslie Berlowitz, can pursue major research efforts, with full access to university resources and personnel.
In addition, the doors will be open to network members for NYU's Humanities Seminars for Visiting Scholars. This program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has an array of presentations (such as ``Medieval Culture: Love and Power in the Middle Ages,'' ``Caravaggio and His Time: Art and Culture Around 1600'') that are not usual small-campus fare.
``The liberal arts and humanities are the thread that binds us together,'' Leslie Berlowitz says. ``I think there will be a lot of unexpected outcomes of this.'' She suggests that some 40,000 students at the participating colleges could ultimately benefit from the enrichment provided to their teachers.
Seventy small colleges within reach of NYU competed for nine openings and two alternative positions in the network. Among the criteria for choosing these were a demonstrated need for stronger liberal arts and humanities programs, and limited ability to meet those needs themselves. The Ford Foundation has provided seed money ($278,000), expecting institutions taking part to assume the costs after a two-year grant period.
Dr. Sheila Biddle, foundation liaison to the project, says that Ford envisions the NYU network as a ``model for other large research universities surrounded by constellations of smaller colleges.'' Ford support of the program, she adds, was based on concern for ``the quality and vitality of [liberal arts] faculty,'' particularly on smaller campuses. ``The liberal arts are beleaguered. They are starved for any kind of intellectual adventure.''
Noting that inter-institutional cooperation has previously been the exception and not the rule, Dr. Biddle concludes, ``I think what everybody hopes is that the contacts made here will continue. What we hope is that people will start talking to each other.'' Note to readers: columnist Rushworth M. Kidder is on vacation