Beck touts individualized education

Peter Gillette

Dr. Jill Beck, 15th president of Lawrence University, delivered the matriculation convocation yesterday at 11:10 a.m. in the Memorial Chapel. The occasion was, of course, the first of her presidency and the first of the 2004-2005 convocation series.Beck’s address was entitled “The Value of Individualized Instruction in Liberal Edcation.” In it, Beck highlighted existing ways in which Lawrence University’s students and professors create scholarship, research, and art together in tutorial-type settings, and outlined the benefits of and opportunities for expanding individualized instruction.

Entrants to the chapel Thursday were greeted by what must be a first in the history of Lawrence University matriculation convocations: a large video screen.

On the screen, Beck shared something else which was likely a first for Lawrence University convocations as well: dance notation. Beck cited her experience working with students restoring Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography to L’AprŠs-midi d’un Faune as a formative event in her commitment to individualized education. Students worked together to decode and stage the revolutionary ballet.

From that experience, Beck went on to highlight professors and students who have been collaborating on projects and papers, including printmaking and art installations, more traditional scientific study, artistic instruction, traditional tutoring, and even a co-authored presentation between psychology Professor Bruce Hetzler and 2003 Lawrence University graduate Lizabeth Martin.

“I sense without yet being able to prove it that Lawrence might be a national leader in this form of higher education,” Beck said. She added that, despite Lawrence’s recent slip out of the US News and World Report’s list of the top fifty national liberal arts schools, an increased focus on individualized education could distinguish Lawrence University, especially as the Carnegie Foundation revises the criteria for its rankings in 2005.

Beck then moved on to place individualized education in a larger context within the history of Lawrence University itself and higher education in general, citing the traditional passion of Oxford’s tutors and the success of Princeton University’s tutoring during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency.

Within Lawrence University, Beck credited prior Lawrence presidents Henry Merritt Wriston for establishing a commitment to tutorials, Nathan Pusey for expanding the commitment to individualized instruction, and her predecessor Richard Warch for defining it as part of “the Lawrence difference.”

Beck marked the types of programs involving smaller groups of students and faculty as a qualitative mark of distinction that ought to be expanded, but also acknowledged the difficulty of turning individualized education into a larger program.

She charged faculty and students alike to explore opportunities to expand individualized instruction.

Top