Steve Volk and Beth Benedix
September 1, 2020
As the summer of 2020 heats up and the country navigates its way through an unrelenting pandemic and the much older burden of anti-Black racism, colleges are attempting to prepare for a fall without knowing who will come or how they will be taught, fed or housed. This is especially true for small, liberal arts colleges, institutions that depend on their “high touch,” face-to-face, residential nature to deliver an education that focuses on broad learning in the arts and sciences rather than professional or technical training. Small by definition, these colleges historically have claimed to be engines of equality, stepping stones to greater social mobility in the country, as well as generators of deeper understanding. Yet, as the authors argue, instead of using their small size to become more integrated, inclusive, collaborative, and visionary, liberal arts colleges have gradually transformed themselves into privileged and exclusionary spaces. To a troubling degree, liberal arts colleges have allowed their selectivity to act as a restrictive barrier, narrowing and homogenizing those who can access this kind of education, and excluding so many others who cannot.
Examining the forces that have acted to hobble higher education and to sustain systemic racism, Volk and Benedix explore how small, liberal arts colleges have gradually ceded to others the power to create the kinds of schools that their mission statements claim they are. With their “manifesto for reinvention,” the authors, who together have spent half a century teaching in liberal arts colleges, describe what a new, transformative culture would look like, from how students are admitted and faculty hired, to the economics that would permit all these college to admit students without regard to financial need. At a time that has seen sweeping changes none would have thought possible, Volk and Benedix call on liberal arts colleges to seize this moment of crisis to construct colleges that, finally, are affordable, equitable, just, and transformative.
Steve Volk is Professor of History Emeritus at Oberlin College where he taught for 31 years. He was the founding director of Oberlin's Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence and is Co-Director of the Great Lakes Colleges Association Consortium for Teaching and Learning. In 2011 he was named U.S. Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio.
In addition to her academic gig as professor of world literature, religious studies, and community engagement at DePauw University, Beth Benedix is founder and director of The Castle, a non-profit organization that works to create a culture of arts-integrated project-based learning in Putnam County, IN public schools, and co-owner of TransformEdu, a consulting company that works with college educators to develop intentional, holistic, and collaborative teaching practices. Her most recent book, Ghost Writer: A Story About Telling a Holocaust Story (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018), was named a finalist in the category of writing/publishing (non-fiction) for the 2019 Next Generation Indie Awards. She lives in Greencastle, Indiana.