HANS ADRIAANSENS DELIVERS BLASTER KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Dr. Hans Adriaansens, Dean Emeritus of University College Roosevelt and recognized as the “father” of undergraduate liberal arts and sciences education in the Netherlands, delivered the keynote address at the recent conference, Moving Liberal Arts and Sciences Forward: The BLASTER Erasmus+ project and its Outcomes, held on October 24, 2017 at Leiden University College, The Hague. The conference marked the end of the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership grant BLASTER sponsored by University College Roosevelt and the European Consortium of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ECOLAS) who partnered with Leiden University College The Hague, University of Warwick, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts and Vytautus Magnus University to produce new materials in the areas of Teacher Training, Undergraduate Research and Quality Standards in the liberal arts and sciences.
Speaking to a large audience of primarily Dutch professors, students and policy-makers, Adriaansens reviewed the formation and achievements of the university college system in the Netherlands over the past twenty years. He noted in particular their contribution to the improvement of undergraduate education since “the emancipation of the bachelor’s degree”, made possible by the Bologna declaration and the process of higher education reform in the European Union. He also noted the influence of the Dutch reforms in other European countries and lauded the growing interest in the liberal arts and sciences as represented in over 30 colleges and programs that make up the ECOLAS network. Rather than rest on those laurels, however, the eminent sociologist and educator implored the audience to think of what has been accomplished as simply a halfway-station toward what he envisions as the final destination of the liberal arts and sciences. Stressing the importance of a collegiate setting in providing the best environment for liberal arts and sciences learning, Adriaansens challenged the audience to consider the following: “The question now is: do we settle for a situation in which only a small group of students enjoys the educational and productive power of the UC-concept, or do we take a next step in spreading the word that this combination of LAS and College is beneficial for all students who take their life seriously?”
In response to this fundamental challenge, the speaker offered five concrete suggestions as to how the bachelor stage at all universities ought to evolve:
1) Adopt of the LAS format across the board. By recognizing that LAS is not just one among many undergraduate programs but actually the umbrella under which all undergraduates can study, students would make much better choices about their academic and professional futures when offered the opportunity to contribute to the planning of their own studies without the traditional disciplinary barriers;
2) Adopt the collegiate structure for LAS. By calling for the breakdown of the current disciplinary program structure, Adriaansens expresses perhaps the most bold and controversial of his suggestions to pave a way forward. Here he insists on the necessity to create a true academic community of scholars and students in order to establish the small-scale setting within which faculty and students alike can thrive;
3) Redefine the mantra of teaching and research. Here Adriaansens harks back to the original notion of German bildung to point out that teachers and learners doing research and acquiring knowledge together is the true essence of university education. Undergraduate liberal arts and sciences programs in Europe have clearly demonstrated the capacity of students to engage in meaningful research alongside their faculty mentors and “should be part and parcel of the university’s bachelor program.
4) Invest in a teaching and learning center. Teaching and learning centers are critical to allowing professors to adapt and accommodate changes in pedagogical strategies going forward. According to Adriaansens, the focus of these centers should concentrate primarily on the incorporation of digitalization and forms of blended learning as well as on the means to incorporate undergraduate research into the bachelor stage;
5) Make a career plan for undergraduate teachers. Finally, Adriaansens advocates for a new way to evaluate the position of undergraduate faculty taking into consideration the specific objectives of the bachelor level education. One consideration is the time that needs to be given to mastering the teaching and research skills necessary for faculty teaching primarily undergraduate students and recognizing that short-term appointments are inadequate in order to build a quality undergraduate faculty.
Adriaansens address was followed by a lively question and answer period during which he was able to elaborate on several of these issues. In sum, the keynote address was a fittingly provocative end to the Erasmus+ BLASTER grant and provided a bold framework for the future of the liberal arts and sciences in Europe. You may read the full text of the remarks here.