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Can Liberal Arts Colleges and Research Universities Speak the Same Language?

Published: February 8, 2013

Given the huge differences in size and mission, liberal arts colleges and major research universities may not appear to have much reason to gather around the same table. But over the next year, the ACM and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a consortium of the universities in the Big Ten Conference plus the University of Chicago, are going see whether they can forge some fruitful partnerships despite – or even because of – those differences.

[Editor's note: Due to inclement weather, this meeting was rescheduled to June 11-12, 2013 in Chicago, IL.]

On February 22-23, faculty and administrators from the two consortia will hold the first of three meetings to explore ways that ACM and CIC institutions might collaborate – such as by sharing resources and technology, teaching methodologies, and capacity – to enhance educational experiences in the humanities for students at the colleges and universities.

These exploratory meetings, each of which will cover an area of potential collaboration among ACM and CIC institutions, are sponsored by Enhancing the Midwest Knowledge Ecosystem (EMKE), an effort supported by a $109,000 planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The first meeting, hosted by the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA will broadly address the topic of languages.

"We'll be looking at issues and commonalities regarding language pedagogy, language sharing, and less commonly taught languages," said Elizabeth Ciner, Senior Program Officer at ACM. "The point of this planning grant is simply to see whether there are ways we can work together productively."

As a group, the CIC institutions offer 128 less commonly taught languages, according to Ciner. Those include Marathi, Portuguese, Setswana, and Swahili, which are part of the curriculum of ACM off-campus study programs in India, Brazil, Botswana, and Tanzania, respectively.

"There are students who go on those ACM programs and either want to take the language before they go or want to continue studying it after they return to campus," she said. "ACM colleges generally don't have the capacity to offer that, so there's a place for possible collaboration."

Ciner noted that ACM colleges bring resources to the partnership, as well. "We have very vibrant language departments at our colleges," said Ciner. "Would it be possible for students at CIC universities to take our upper-level courses in languages? Are there possibilities for people to participate online? The ACM also offers excellent off-campus study programs, and how might we share those resources?"

As will be the case for all three of the EMKE gatherings, participants for the upcoming meeting were nominated by the academic deans at the ACM and CIC institutions. The second meeting, to be held in April, will bring together a different group of faculty and administrators to focus on digital humanities. The topic for the third meeting will be selected later in the year.

"I think these meetings will give participants an opportunity to learn from each other about innovative initiatives that are already taking place, and perhaps come up with some new ones," Ciner said. "We hope to emerge from these three meetings with ideas for one or two ways that ACM and CIC would really like to work together, and then develop those ideas into grant proposals to take to the Mellon Foundation."


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