The initiative aims at developing a dialogue between two major strengths of the American and the European educational system: The tradition of Liberal Arts Education in the American college and Humboldt’s concept of the unity of scholarship and teaching as developed in German universities. Through this dialogue, the initiative seeks the advancement of the liberal arts in the European context with due consideration of the significant differences between the two systems of higher education and their social and economic environment. These differences notwithstanding, this initiative sees common ground in the question facing both systems: Is the purpose of higher education limited to satisfying the demands of the labor market, or do colleges and universities have a broader and more encompassing educational mandate? In facing this question, a rigorous Liberal Arts education may well hold the potential for overcoming the contradiction between these two purposes by emphasizing abilities and understandings that qualify young people for both the complex and changing needs of labor markets and critically understanding the cultural and intellectual forces that have shaped our contemporary societies. Overcoming this contradiction will also, in the context of German university reform, provide a way out of the “Bologna” debates about whether and how to gear programs of study to identifiable occupational outcomes (“Berufsfähigkeit”).
For the true goal of a rigorous liberal arts education is the development of the entire person’s capacity for critical thinking, reasoning and the opening of the mind for other people’s and cultures’ values and opinions as well as the ability to adapt creatively to new situations and circumstances. This approach is open and multi-disciplinary by definition, with a strong emphasis on dialogic teaching and learning principles. While the traditional German “Geisteswissenschaften” often seek to accomplish the same goals, their main objective remains the training of specialized scholars in their disciplines. Liberal Arts Education, on the other hand, tries to awaken and nourish the intellectual curiosity in every student and to support the development of his or her scholarly potential by confronting them with the critical traditions of the humanities and the sciences in an interdisciplinary fashion.
It is the principal goal of this initiative to engage interested scholars and leaders in higher education in a continuing dialogue on how this objective can best be achieved, how Europe can learn from the recent critical discourse on the role of the liberal arts in higher education in the United States, and how some of the best traditions of European higher education can be revived and revitalized in new institutional and curricular models for liberal arts education.