By Amy K. Hamlin
In early September 2016, several months into my 3-year term as Mission Chair for the Liberal Arts, I learned about the Carnegie Classification. Knowledge of this independent commission, established in 1970 to describe institutional diversity in higher education, arrived with the unwelcome news that our Classification had changed. In the span of five years, our Undergraduate Instructional Program classification went from Balanced arts & sciences/ professions, some graduate coexistence in 2010 to Professions plus arts & sciences, some graduate coexistence in 2015.
What had changed since 2010? What are the implications for our tripartite Mission, especially the liberal arts? How does this change call us to respond? Provost Alan Silva, who was at the time the Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences (SHAS), wondered the same. Before we could even begin to answer these questions, we needed to better understand the data upon which the change was determined. Scott Pakudaitis, Institutional Research Analyst at St. Kate’s, was instrumental in this education. Data for the Classification is culled and sorted — via IPEDS — from the number of majors in designated liberal arts versus professional studies disciplines. Alan and I, with support from Scott, prepared a report on the Classification change to share with the SHAS Department Chairs. With permission from my collaborators, I share that report, which I encourage you to review, here.
In the many conversations that have ensued, I’ve collected quite a menagerie of animal analogies: red herring, bellwether, canary in a coalmine. The choice of analogy (fish, mammal, or bird) depends on both whether and how my interlocutor views the change as symptomatic of crisis or progress. In both cases, conversation is almost always marked by frustration, anger, resentment and what I have come to characterize as mistrust and misunderstanding. I sense that these feelings are rooted in years of real and imagined betrayals and erasures, misallocations of resources, and institutional siloing that has eroded the potential for fellowship, and therefore collaboration. The gulf between professional studies and the liberal arts appears to be growing.
And yet, the relationship between the two — however fraught or complementary — is autochthonous to our institution. Joanne Cavallaro, Jane Carroll, and Lynn Gildensoph, authors of “What a Woman Should Know, What a Woman Can Be: Curriculum as Prism” in Liberating Sanctuary: 100 Years of Women’s Education at the College of St. Catherine, tell us:
The College of St. Catherine decided to follow both models simultaneously: students were expected to follow a rigorous liberal arts education, one modeled not on elite secular women’s colleges but on elite secular coeducational institutions such as the University of Chicago; and they were offered training in such fields as nursing, librarianship, and teaching.
Behind this dual curriculum, anomalous in higher education at the time, lay our founders’ commitment to access and excellence. It stands to reason, then, that our Carnegie Classification should reflect a balance between the two. That is not a decision I’m empowered to make, but if we were to commit to a restoration of balance in our Classification, I would caution against discourse and strategies that would deepen the divide.
The casualties of competition are real. In a recent conversation with Hui Wilcox (Mission Chair for Women’s Education and Associate Professor of Sociology), I learned about Muzafer Sherif’s sociological experiment in the 1950s that illustrates the deleterious consequences of competition. In what is known as the Robbers Cave experiment, Sherif worked with twenty-two white, middle-class boys at a summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma. His goal was to test his hypothesis that the quality of group rapport arises out of contexts that, whether by accident or by design, determine either hostile or productive behaviors. The boys were divided into two groups and given sequential tasks, some of which put them in competition and others that had them working together toward a common goal. The conclusions that Sherif drew from his study, while arguably unsurprising, are no less powerful. We work better when we work together. To learn more about Sherif’s experiment, follow this link (courtesy of Hui).
I’m reminded of another recent conversation, this one with Kate Barrett (Mission Chair for Catholic Identity and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy), whose appreciation for the liberal arts is deep seated and analogical. Through her own disciplinary lens and recourse to the spirit of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, she has encouraged me to find and forge similarities between professional studies and the liberal arts. What might be learned and gained through collaboration and recognition of what we have in common, to educate women to lead and influence? It’s a question to which I have earned numerous answers in my nearly ten years at St. Kate’s. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with and learning from many of our colleagues including: Debra Filer, Professor of Nursing; Deborah Kloiber, Library Archivist and Head of Collections; Linda Distad, Professor Emeritus of Education; Anupama Pasricha, Associate Professor of Apparel, Merchandising & Design; Pa Der Vang, Associate Professor of Social Work; Mark Blegen, Dean of Health Sciences and Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Science; Anne Weyandt, Dean of the College for Adults; and Meghan Mason, Assistant Professor of Public Health.
On the one hand, the distinction between the liberal arts and professional studies is necessary to protect the integrity, relevance, and meaningful histories of many ways of knowing. On the other hand, we must be alert to both the quality of narratives that such a distinction serves and the conditions that give it agency. Indeed, according to Scott, “the only really useful Classification is the primary one which is a combination of size, research focus, and degree level offerings [in our case Master’s Colleges & Universities: Larger Programs.]” Nonetheless, our current Undergraduate Instructional Program classification — Professions plus arts & sciences, some graduate coexistence — provides an opportunity to ask urgent questions about who we are, the University we wish to become, and how we decide to get there.
A question I continue to ask myself is: When does the distinction between the liberal arts and professional studies break down under close inspection? To my mind, this can only occur in the creative and cognitive combustion of collaboration. It is in this space that new knowledge is possible. The future is ours to make.
Amy K. Hamlin, PhD, is the Alberta Huber, CSJ, Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts and Director of the Neufeld Initiative at St. Catherine University. She is an associate professor of art history.