Teagle Foundation Forum Explores What Liberal Arts Can Offer Underrepresented Students

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Teagle Foundation Forum Explores What Liberal Arts Can Offer Underrepresented Students

NEW YORK — At a recent forum marking the Teagle Foundation’s 75th anniversary, humanities faculty explored what their disciplines offer underrepresented students – and whether liberal arts schools are the institutions best serving them.

“We can – and do – conduct our work with awareness that higher education is in some ways, alas, doing more to replicate than resist the trend toward savage inequality in our country,” said Teagle Foundation President Dr. Andrew Delbanco in his opening remarks.

The Teagle Foundation offers grants to initiatives that advance liberal arts education and civic engagement.

Delbanco pointed out that the most prestigious institutions aren’t the ones educating the majority of underprivileged students. Public community colleges are, he said, and they should be a part of the liberal arts conversation.

Or as former LaGuardia Community College president Dr. Gail Mellow put it, “When we say humanities is dying, you’re looking at the wrong half of higher education.” Mellow emphasized that its mostly institutions like hers that teach humanities to “people who haven’t had a chance.”

Her co-panelist, University of Maryland, Baltimore County president Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, called on liberal arts school leaders to confront the disparity between them and the populations they want to serve.

“I say this with love to fellow Americans, but you don’t look like America, looking at the audience,” he said. “That’s the elephant in the room for anybody of color. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be here. We should just have a bigger room.”

But the community colleges serving these students often lack the resources to support them, and speaker Dr. Jennifer Summit, provost and vice president for academic affairs at San Francisco State University, shared a theory as to why. In the 1960s, community colleges were built on a funding model that assumed low retention rates, accounting for the large percentage of dropouts today, she said. Schools budgeted for low-cost classes so they’d have low losses if students left...

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