The Academic Plan Overview

Enriching Minds in a Changing Landscape

Working together in classrooms, laboratories, studios, and libraries, generations of Haverford students and faculty have discovered the rewards of intellectual and creative engagement with the human and natural world. For Haverford students and faculty, those rewards do not consist simply of knowing more. We strive for a better kind of learning (as the College’s Latin motto announces) through a self- critical and analytical process that permeates the curriculum. This better kind of learning encompasses a range of activities and capacities, including:

  • The capacity to produce, analyze, and defend original ideas;
  • Mastery of the key methods and concepts in a primary field of study, complemented by a breadth of learning that places those methods and concepts in context;
  • A critical stance with respect to received wisdom of a given field of inquiry, or to habits of mind and behavior that often go unquestioned;
  • The ability to communicate clearly in a variety of venues;
  • The perspective to understand and question areas of difference, and define one’s own positions vis-à-vis various forms of history, politics, and knowledge, applying principles of egalitarianism and social justice within and beyond the classroom.

We stress the benefits of an educational philosophy committed to

  • The enrichment of an individual’s capacity for original thought;
  • The profound rewards of a lifetime of learning;
  • The public good that comes from a citizenry alert to the depth and breadth of the human experience.

In short, we imbue students with critical and flexible habits of mind that prepare them for success and fulfillment in a changing world.

Such work depends on close connections between students and a faculty engaged in innovative scholarship. Indeed, our tight-knit community—amongst the smallest of our peer institutions— encourages close collaborative relationships between teacher-scholars and students, culminating in an intensive senior capstone experience. As leaders in their fields of research and creativity, Haverford’s faculty are dedicated to the acquisition, production, and communication of knowledge. This commitment to discovery models for students the generative life of rigorous study and shapes the faculty’s mission of preparing students to realize their own potential for sustained and original work. Haverford’s scholar-teachers transmit the excitement of learning to students by making visible and accessible the process of their own intellectual explorations, forging the College into a community of passionate inquiry.

Shaped by its Quaker heritage and academic Honor Code, our culture is guided by an ethos of shared responsibility both for intellectual tradition and for the social world in which that tradition figures. Our small size is complemented by our connections to nearby institutions, giving our students and faculty access to resources unusually rich for our intimate scale. Haverford’s consortial relationships with Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges enhance our human and institutional assets, from our shared library system to collaborative curricular initiatives across the disciplines. Our relationship with the nearby University of Pennsylvania similarly affords our students and faculty unique curricular and research opportunities. Further, our students and faculty enjoy close proximity to Philadelphia (and New York or Washington, D.C.), a geographic advantage offering extraordinary intellectual and cultural resources.

That landscape of expansive opportunity sets the scene for transformations of the Haverford classroom within the matrix of the current academic plan. Building upon pedagogical innovations in Fine Arts, Music, and the experimental sciences, contemporary faculty across the divisions are extending the classroom into new sites of inquiry and discovery. To the studio and the lab we can add the archive, the community, and the natural environment to those spaces where faculty and students explore urgent questions and hone analytical tools that are core to our educational mission. As with drawing in Fine Arts or Biology’s “superlab” (now celebrating its 50th anniversary), courses taking place “in the field” or in spaces where collections and databases are most readily investigated are no longer just supplemental to seminar and lecture rooms but are sometimes stand-alone curricular venues.

This expansion in the spaces of learning not only widens the “source material” available for study but also intensifies the Haverford learning paradigm as one that minimizes the teacher-centric model of knowledge delivery-and-reception in favor of collaborative interrogation of information, received meaning, and potentially new ideas. More than ever, Haverford faculty spend less time serving students facts and truths and more time helping students analyze the validity and value of what they can find for themselves. Whether in the traditional or “expanded” classroom, this intensified student opportunity for critical and creative thinking is enhanced by revolutions in information technology. No longer are we limited by the availability of faculty knowledge in the classroom, for there is a world of ever-exploding and instantly available facts at everyone’s finger-tips. In the twenty-first century classroom, memorization of information becomes less important than learning how to discriminate within a vast array of materials what is valid, relevant, and worthy of further study. Likewise, the library is no longer a static repository of things to be recovered but instead, like the seminar room, studio, and lab, a lively arena of exploration.

At heart, the seminar room remains the locus of a Haverford education. It is indispensable for two reasons: first, because critical analysis through close scrutiny of human expression and natural objects, salted by historical awareness, is the essential vehicle of understanding across the liberal arts; and second, because it is the central mechanism for rendering Haverford an intimate community of learners. Upon that foundation, Haverford’s curriculum and pedagogy continue to expand into new locales and formations, moving between once firmly distinguished curricular and co-curricular structures, between the campus and the world beyond Haverford’s walls, and along the borders between disciplines. Like the seminar, disciplines remain foundational for a Haverford education; and like the classroom, they have expanded outward while retaining their integrity as “fields” where students attain greatest depth of understanding. The challenge addressed in this academic plan is how to sustain the College’s commitment to disciplinary learning while promoting curricular and pedagogical innovation. The stakes are high; the opportunities inspiring.

Some Recent Developments

Over the course of the last several years Haverford has created a number of frameworks that position us to meet the challenges and opportunities outlined above. Our Centers – the Marian E Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center (KINSC), the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH), and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) – bring together students and faculty across disciplines to focus on shared interests or pressing problems. The Centers support seminars, grant-funded research initiatives, faculty and student travel in support of research projects and presentation, and public forums to explore novel modes of inquiry. Accordingly, they highlight the many ways in which the disciplines connect, formalizing an aspect of cross-disciplinary engagement that has always been the hallmark of our liberal arts curriculum.

In addition to the Centers, the Faculty has recently approved new pathways through the curriculum, offering students expanded opportunities to attain formally recognized expertise. Among these we now count programs in Environmental Studies, Health Studies, and Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. These constructs offer new models of collaborative curricular innovation across the Tri-Co and across the disciplines. As this document further develops and explains below, such programs—and any strategically identified additions to them that we might contemplate—can thrive only if made sustainable by faculty whose scholarly, pedagogical, and administrative energies underwrite the programs’ missions. Such sustainability will require enhanced faculty presence, accompanying staff expertise, and resources for faculty development.

We have also taken steps to strengthen our academic support centers for all students. Our Writing Center and the new Office of Academic Resources (OAR) lend support to students in courses across the curriculum, developing the craft of writing, public speaking, and many other specialized skills. Alongside the Library, which educates students to navigate various platforms for information acquisition and use, these programs focus on the specific academic needs of each student, preparing them to thrive in the academic community, utilize the curricular opportunities available to them, and engage in the capstone research experience. From their new home in Stokes, the OAR and Writing Center are rapidly transforming how students work with peers, with faculty, and with specialist staff to participate in the ambitious learning enterprise.

Each of these programs (the Centers, the new curricular pathways, and our invigorated support services) has brought faculty and students together in the pursuit of new ideas and new modes of inquiry. Digital technologies afford us new and innovative approaches to collaboration transcending the boundaries of time and location, student engagement and opportunities to tap the various learning styles of our diverse community of students.

Haverford’s faculty and administration recognize the power of these forces, even as we remain deeply committed to the traditional liberal arts experience. Digital technologies afford us new ways of collaborating, and new ways of knowing, but they are resources to be deployed carefully and thoughtfully. They oblige us to reflect critically on how the digital domain (in visual media, or in the oceans of data now accessible in a few clicks or taps) shapes our understanding of the world, and the questions we can ask about it. They also provide us with novel ways of interacting, and of knowing, challenging us to develop new literacies in our students.

At its core, the following ideas seek to secure our pedagogical model of a better kind of learning by developing our curricular endowment, and above all by charting new pathways through and among the disciplines. We have already begun some of this work. But Haverford’s ability to realize the promise of these initiatives (while preserving our traditions of excellence in scholarship and teaching) will depend on the creative use of new resources:

  • to create new tenure-line appointments;
  • to ensure the faculty’s ability to produce research at the front-lines of their fields;
  • to appoint new specialized support staff;
  • to renovate crucial facilities; and
  • to update our libraries and information technology capacities.

Such investments also make a strong commitment to our students as those who bear the promise of our common future. Our plan, in brief, offers ideas on how to enrich the curriculum, invigorate the disciplines, strengthen existing and emerging interdisciplinary programs, attract and support the most creative and generative people (students, faculty, and staff), and create the physical and intellectual spaces that will keep Haverford at the vanguard of the liberal arts tradition.