Winter was time of delivering. I had to apply for more conferences and summer schools that I can readily count. But I also submit two grant proposals for work I could do starting in 2018. And on top of that, since last posting I moved apartments three times: hardly expected set of emergencies got in my way of doing the job properly. However, it seems now that I pretty much recovered and should soon get back on full steam.
In terms of my doctoral project, I executed last two interviews in January. With eight first leaders interviewed, I have now the empirical base for my comparison. I am very grateful to all professors involved: their generosity with time and attention has allowed the project to develop the way it was intended to from the start. I am now almost done with the transcriptions, and should have a draft of an empirical chapter ready by the time I leave New York in July. I also appreciate the fact that Dr Ulrike Ziemer from University of Winchester has agreed to offer her expertise as a third supervisor of my PhD.
Apart from a trip to Atlanta to meet with prof. Nikolay Kopossov and his wife prof. Dina Khapaeva, I attended AAC&U symposium in San Francisco in January. That allowed me to meet prof. Sheldon Rothblatt, who has obviously many things to say about what I do, including helpful criticism. I appreciate those talks, and I am grateful to prof. Anne MacLachlan for making the connection; hopefully, we would meet at CHER 2017 soon.
Along with the empirical part of my PhD, I am currently revising the theoretical chapter to submit to “Theory and Method in Higher Education Studies”. Or, I should rather say, I am writing anew a chapter, in a form of a journal article. It is probably going to be the most important piece I ever written, as I presents the rationale for what I do, both in terms of research gap and its significance. I want to make a case for combining empirical, comparative higher education studies done to date on the phenomenon of liberal arts global revival with the history of ideas approach that can be found in works on the tradition of liberal arts. Currently, it seems to me that both strands are barely connected, and the use of allegedly common concepts overshadows some fundamental differences in what is the purpose of liberal education, why is it offered, where and by whom. By the way, there is still no authoritative, complete and rigorous database/inventory of liberal education initiatives in Europe (Godwin 2013 was the most serious attempt in this direction, but has not been published nor updated, plus it omits some important programs); with Tim Hoff from University of Hamburg we are now trying to make the proper visual tool, and put up on an interactive website. Theoretical challenges considering the classification of those programs and their curricula are tremendous, but also fascinating.
As a follow-up to the UNIKE project, I have been co-thinking with prof. Davydd Greenwood and prof. Susan Wright about something that can be called neoliberal education. While there is indeed a growing number of liberal education programs worldwide, reasons for establishment and understanding of the ideal of liberal education vary. Some of them seem to be very close to creating easily adapting polymaths who would exercise entrepreneurial traits towards their curricula and careers, thus securing an edge in the knowledge economy as a new cosmopolitan elite. What has been written about Yale-NUS in Singapore suggest exactly this direction. While European programs do not yet seem to be getting to the point where you offer liberal education without mentioning critical thinking (see Chinese examples), overplaying of economic factors in some programs is evident. Given what historically has been considered the purpose of liberal education, and connotations it had even four decades ago in the US, such neoliberal arts as William Deresiewicz put it a fascinating from the point of both research and strategy for European liberal education. Maybe we should not be putting all developments in liberal education into one bag of “valuable innovation”. Or maybe we should. In any case, this topic warrants some more research: I applied for a scholarship to do this starting from 2018. Before that, I hope to scale up interest in European liberal education by a panel I proposed to Aarhus University conference on “The Purpose of the Future University” to be held in November. If accepted, I would be joined by first Professors of Liberal Arts and Sciences (and alumnus of first Dutch cohort of liberal education students) Teun Dekker from University College Maastricht, and Tim Hoff, at a liberal education panel there. This panel, quite fittingly, is actually called a symposium.
During those winter months, I also had to move the writing pipeline. An article on German Private Liberal Education, co-written with David Kretz, has been submit and already revised in last three months. Another article, this time a joint effort with Madelaine Leitsberger, dealing with the responses from university sector in Austria and Poland to the refugee crisis, is now in its third and hopefully final version to be published in European Educational Research Journal. Both are scheduled to be out in summer months.
Two articles in Polish have seen the light of day as well. The first one was written almost two years ago, and deals with the pedagogical credibility of liberal education narrative. Another, one that I really think can be of importance given the ongoing reform process of Polish higher education, is a Polish version of my MISH article – published in the best possible source in Poland, “Nauka i Szkolnictwo Wyższe” – a go-to source of higher education research in the country. Links to publications can be found on updated section of this website, whereas a descriptions of all research projects I am currently dealing with are on my ResearchGate profile.
The last thing that kept me busy was a collection of student essays on the experience of European Liberal Education. Jakob Tonda Dirksen and David M. Kretz are co-editing with me a this book that is going to be one of a kind. We have several good contributions, that underwent multiple editing rounds, to uncover a new ground in studying the topic. Reading students’ experiences is not only interesting in itself, but it also allows for a diversity of voices and accents, and what students (and alumni) focused on was largely different from what both institutions and researchers put into spotlight when talking of liberal education. We hope to have this published as an ebook before 2nd Liberal Education Student Conference to be held in early May in Freiburg.
So what now? My interviews have to be authorized and analyzed, “the paper” on theory of liberal education written, ebook finally put together and also I am looking forward to making a better use of my location at Wagner College and in New York City to conduct some more interviews. Let’s say this is the plan for April. It is going to get busy again.