Committee Aims

The Aims of a Stanford Undergraduate Education

WORKING DRAFT -- revised 10/29/2010

From the time of its founding, Stanford has oriented its undergraduate teaching mission around two large goals. In the Founding Grant, Jane and Leland Stanford sought to "qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life." The University's first President, David Starr Jordan, took careful heed of this injunction to attend to students' personal development and the practical value they bring to the world through their training. But he also introduced a second idea, which deeply colored his own understanding of the sort of usefulness university training ought to engender. He embedded this idea into the University's motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" ("The wind of freedom blows"), quoted from the sixteenth century humanist Ulrich von Hutten-- a man who "dared to think and act for himself, when thought and act were costly." Guided by this motto, Stanford aims to promote wide ranging freedom of mind to our students, directly engaging them in the pure search for knowledge, regardless of its particular practical applications. This ideal places Stanford's teaching mission squarely in the long tradition of liberal education, which holds that such study promotes a person's "freedom for expansion and self-development." Free study is also an education for freedom.

Stanford's distinctive, collaborative integration of the resources from all its various schools into the mission of educating our undergraduates arises from a sustained effort to blend these two ideals-- usefulness in life and freedom of mind-- into a seamless whole. As one of America's most eloquent advocates of liberal education put it, "The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning...; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization."

Three broad educational aims structure Stanford's pursuit of this mission. We aim for students to acquire important bodies of knowledge and participate in knowledge creation, to build foundational intellectual and practical capacities, and finally, to develop personal and social responsibility and work toward reflective, creative lives. The three broad aims are connected by a fourth educational idea: throughout their studies at every level, students should synthesize and integrate these skills and knowledge they acquire, and learn to apply them in new contexts. Each of these four broad areas demands special attention in general education, since their initial development there helps the student to make further strides in more advanced  studies, including the major.




References and Notes:

N.B. This statement was developed with the aid of materials and research produced under the aegis of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, including the LEAP statement of "Essential Learning Outcomes," based on research into practices at hundreds of colleges and universities. Much of the research is reported in the AACU publications cited below. We also benefitted greatly from discussions at an AACU conference on revitalizing general education.

American Association of Colleges and Universities. (2002) Greater Expectations: A New Vision for

    Learning as a Nation Goes to College.

-----. (2004) Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree.

-----. (2007) College Learning for the New Global Century.

Casper, Gerhard. (1992) "Inaugural Address,: October 2, 1992. Published at

Du Bois, W.E.B. (1989 [1903]) The Souls of Black Folk. Ed., H.L. Gates. New York: Bantam.

Jordan, David Starr. (1992) The Days of a Man: being Memories of a Naturalist, Teacher, and Minor

     prophet of Democracy, 2 vols. Yonkers, NY: World Book Co.

Stanford University. The Founding Grant with Amendments, Legislation, and Court Decrees. Stanford

     University, 1987.

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