Teagle Forum Raises Center of Inquiry's Profile

by Howard W. Hewitt

September 27, 2007


Many of higher education’s leading experts on educational assessment and learning outcomes gathered on the Wabash College campus when the Teagle Foundation hosted its annual meeting here in September.

The Teagle Foundation presented a forum at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, a significant gathering to talk about the tools and methodology of educational assessment. The event also lifts the Center of Inquiry’s national profile and positions its researchers as leaders in the field of assessment and student learning outcomes.

Teagle Foundation President Bob Connor brought the forum to Wabash after learning about the meaningful assessment work being done at the Center of Inquiry through — among other initiatives — its National Study of Liberal Arts Education.

Wabash Dean of the College Gary Phillips said Connor has led an effort to "deepen, thicken, and ground liberal arts colleges’ work at getting stronger in the framework of assessment. His partnering with Wabash through the Center of Inquiry has facilitated that work and enabled the Center here to benefit.

"The end result enables liberal arts institutions through their faculty, staff, and administration to take seriously the question of inquiry as a way to get stronger," Phillips said.

That is exactly what Connor had in mind in bringing the forum to Wabash.

"We chose Wabash as the place to bring together leaders of our collaborative in value-added assessment because we have seen that its Center of Inquiry is doing such extraordinary work in advancing liberal arts education," Connor said. "At Teagle, we are especially pleased that the Center Director, Charlie Blaich, has developed a program of Teagle Scholars, skilled faculty, and administrators willing to go the extra mile to help other colleges improve student engagement and learning in the liberal arts and sciences."

Connor worked with Blaich to put together the September forum. "The Center collaborates with liberal arts institutions to use evidence to strengthen student learning," Blaich said. "The meeting was a great opportunity for us to connect with a new group of colleagues from across the country, learn about their projects, and think of ways that we might facilitate their good efforts."

The Teagle Foundation facilitates the assessment effort through grants. Partnering with the Center of Inquiry furthers both groups’ goals. "What Teagle didn’t have and what Connor and Blaich partnered to make possible was a place to go for help," Phillips said.

The nearly 60 representatives from across the country not only benefited from meeting with each other, but learning about the Center.

"Here is this little liberal arts college in the Midwest, single-sex, that doesn’t get on the radar in a number of ways in the circles of many of these institutions," Phillips explained. "But here are these institutions that are brought here to enable them. The Wabash name is out there in ways that don’t necessarily identify us on our academic side in terms of curriculum, programs, or our sports teams. But it puts us in a place where people hear our name and they make a connection to the Center of Inquiry."

Connor was high in his praise of Wabash and the Center of Inquiry.

"Wabash sets a high standard itself in such matters, but the Center is a unique resource for liberal arts education more widely," the Teagle Foundation president said. "I don’t know of any other college that has developed an equally effective outreach program."

Conversely, there are benefits to Wabash and the Center when a group of this prestige brings nationally recognized educators to Crawfordsville.

"It sets us up to strengthen the Center in its persistence after the grant period ends," Phillips said. "We’ll need to have those relationships with other partnering foundations and institutions. It reinforces the importance of critical inquiry.

"It brings to our public, internal to the College — the trustees, alumni, faculty, parents of students, and staff — a greater awareness of what the Center is doing and its impact at the national level."

In photos: From top, Philllips, Blaich, Connors.



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