August 31, 2005      
 
"Group of Seven" meet at Bishop's

Invitations to attend a forum on campus were extended to the Presidents/Principals of six universities (Acadia University, King’s College (NS), Mt. Allison University, St. Francis Xavier University, St. Thomas University and Trent University) with a similar profile to Bishop’s: small, residential, with a strong commitment to undergraduate, liberal education. Each of the institutions happily accepted Dr. Poupart's invitation. Also invited as a special guest and speaker was Debra Humphreys, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communication for the American Association of Colleges & Universities. The aim was to discuss commonalities and differences among the institutions and decide if there might be any synergies of mutual benefit to explore.

To encourage open discussion the agenda was purposely kept flexible. A number of topics emerged, such as:

• Is the way our small universities deliver a liberal education any different than that of larger universities? The question was not about quality but marketing: are we in fact as different as our marketing materials imply?
• Is the concept of liberal education understood inside/outside the world of academe? Is there indeed a renewed interest in the value of liberal education as opposed to vocational/career training – and if so what should our institutions do to encourage it?
• Collective Research: how is each institution evaluating its success in meeting students’ expectations and in providing a liberal education? Perhaps our institutions could work to collect similar empirical data (National Survey of Student Engagement was one suggestion).
• Are there specific groups that should be targeted to promote the notion of liberal education in residential schools? For example, immigrant populations?
• To what level do we incorporate civic engagement into our curriculums?
• As a nation what does Canada need – and in what way can our institutions help service those needs?

There appeared to be consensus around the idea that although in many ways we are similar, and competitive, collectively we could help each other become better – and ultimately strengthen the understanding and the role of small, primarily undergraduate, residential universities in Canada.

As a result, there was much discussion around what the future purpose of the collective would be, and the parameters to be included in the group. The group agrees there are four main areas of interest to all institutions involved:

1. Recruitment / Marketing
2. Internationalization
3. Engaged/Community Learning
4. Sensitization of organizations and other universities

The group decided to continue informal discussions to move this project forward, calling themselves "The Working Group on the Advancement of Liberal Education". The membership, for the time being, will be these seven universities but others might be added in the future.
 
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