July 01, 2011

Building on the best of the past, new curriculum looks forward

One of the finest qualities of many Beloit Plan-era alumni is their fierce loyalty to the essential elements of the Plan. Beyond the innovative calendar it introduced, Beloit was arguably the first highly selective college to embed experiential and international education into a curriculum that remained fundamentally true to its liberal arts foundations. The plan was distinctive, visionary, and substantive. Today, virtually all colleges of distinction proudly champion their own versions of international and experiential education. That, combined with the fact that nearly all educational research identifies these elements as central to an effective college experience, is convincing proof that the Beloit Plan experiment shaped higher education in America.

The plan did not arise out of thin air, however. The motto upon which the college was founded—“Scientia vera cum fide pura” (scientific truth and pure faith)—points to an educational philosophy based on the value of “ground truth” or putting theoretical models up against authentic evidence. As the college matured towards its centennial, it embraced the innovative work of the reformist John Dewey, which called for students to actively shape their education to promote real social reform.

This fall we inaugurate a new curriculum. There are many moving parts to it and a short letter from me is not the right venue for explaining its many intricacies and virtues. But, it is important for you to know that the college mission was the primary force guiding our deliberations over every aspect of the new curriculum. In our mission statement, the college promises to promote international education, integrate a liberal arts education with out-of-classroom experiences, and approach the complexity of the world through interdisciplinary perspectives. Sound familiar?

Since the moment I arrived on campus, I’ve been inspired to see the degree to which the faculty and students at Beloit College embrace these elements of the mission. Without a doubt, the most important thing the new curriculum does is to call out these core elements in a more intentional and developmentally sophisticated way. Our new curriculum brings together, at an institutional level, what is distinctively glorious about a Beloit education.

The debt that our mission, and the new curriculum, owes to the 40-plus year legacy of the Beloit Plan is impossible to miss. And since the Beloit Plan has its own debt to the college’s previous 120 years, there is continuity that explains Beloit’s remarkable ability to provide this type of education so effectively.

On the fiftieth anniversary of our founding, Professor Joseph Emerson, one of the first two professors hired at the college, famously reflected:

“The question is sometimes asked of me whether I do not feel somewhat a stranger amid the many changes that have recently come to the College. My reply is that I feel more at home than ever, for this is more than ever the College of my dreams; and should I return fifty years hence I am sure that I shall find myself even more at home then than now.”

The college has continually incorporated and improved upon the work of previous generations, but it may be easiest to see that for yourself. I encourage you to return to campus, talk to the faculty, buy a student or two a cup of coffee, and explore what it means to get a Beloit education in 2011. I promise you will find this, more than ever, the college of your dreams.

President Scott Bierman

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