The strengths of a liberal arts education—an enhanced ability to make connections, analytical and critical skills hones to view problems from multiple perspectives, and the cognitive flexibility to develop a wide range of problem-solving strategies for constantly changing situations—as increasingly in demand in our society, yet the institutions that provide such general education face increasing financial pressures that make it difficult to maintain their focus. In these circumstances, collaborations among such institutions offer a lifeline and partial solution. The Midwest Faculty Seminar (MFS) is a program of scholarly exchange and faculty development linking the University of Chicago and twenty-two midwestern liberal arts colleges. Since 1971, the MFS has promoted the value of undergraduate liberal arts education by helping college faculty to update their knowledge of developments in specific disciplines and to place that knowledge in the context of the interdisciplinary discussions so essential to liberal arts education.
Each year, the University of Chicago hosts four Midwest Faculty Seminars, consisting of three days of formal presentations, interspersed with small groups discussions. These programs, attended by 15-25 faculty, are intended to excite intense intellectual consideration of new scholarship by both University faculty presenters and liberal arts college faculty participants. The topics are intended to encourage cross-disciplinary discussion and inspire new avenues for research, teaching, and collaboration. Each year, one of the four topics will be dedicated to the examination of a particular text that has influenced thinking and teaching in a variety of fields.
Recently, the Midwest Faculty Seminar has developed additional programming to involve advanced graduate students across departments in the network of liberal arts college faculty and research university faculty. We have added a Preparing Future Faculty segment to the four annual seminars, which involves invites faculty from the MFS member institutions to discuss careers in liberal arts colleges with graduate students over an informal lunch.
Additionally, each Spring, rather than examining another text or research topic, we invite faculty from the colleges to discuss with advanced graduate students how they integrate new learning into their teaching and investigate with their audience moments of pedagogical change, discussing the goals and outcomes of that process. In other words, invited college teachers are asked to ‘think out loud’ about their pedagogy in the context of some concrete question or project, in order to make pedagogical analysis more transparent to beginning instructors. Listening to experienced educators from MFS schools also helps University of Chicago graduate students understand the expectations of an undergraduate program at the departmental level, and its connection with the institutional mission. They begin to understand the role of faculty in such endeavors, what goals it aspires for its students to achieve, and how to begin preparing for such challenges.