Vitalities of the Mind
The Gustafson Seminar on the future of liberal education


Vol. 11 No. 2
October/November 2008

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Vitalities of the Mind
The Gustafson Seminar on the future of Liberal Education

Educating the Vitalities of the Mind

2007-2008 Gustafson Seminar

Vitalities of the Mind Matrix

A Vitalities of the Mind Glossary

“People who understand liberal arts education argue that it’s the ultimate practical education.”

Civility and contemplation and ethics and compassion and courage—all these things are great. But we need Apollo and Dionysus. ”

Website special:
“Bathing in Reeking Wounds: The Liberal Arts and War”
Catharine R. Stimpson, University Professor of English and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University

Comments on the Liberal Arts
Response to the Gustafson Faculty Seminar

Some Thoughts on Overcoming Paralysis
Education and curricula in the context of war

Can the Liberal Arts Reduce the Likelihood of War?
An important but limited resource


This special issue of the Academic Exchange is devoted to the work of the Gustafson Seminar in 2007-08 on the ambitious topic of “The Purpose and Future of Liberal Education.”

From 1989 to 1996, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, Luce Professor of the Humanities and Comparative Studies James M. Gustafson led an annual cross-disciplinary faculty seminar at Emory University. The Luce Seminar brought together nine to twelve faculty members twice weekly for a semester and, freeing them of administrative and teaching responsibilities, allowed them to devote their time to examining connections among a disparate variety of disciplines, from the natural and social sciences to the humanities.

When Gustafson retired in 1998, several faculty lobbied for a continued life for the Luce Seminar in some fashion. The provost’s office renamed it the Gustafson Seminar, and with a lower budget and time commitment, faculty participants met six or seven times during the semester.

The year 2007 brought a new phase in the life of the Gustafson Seminar. A core group of faculty took on the responsibility of stimulating intellectual discussion across the broader university community on “The Purpose and Future of Liberal Education.”

The topic was particularly timely, as the seminar was to discover: Emory College was at the same moment going through the process of redesigning its General Education Requirements curriculum. The new GERS go into effect in fall 2009.

The 2007-08 Gustafson Scholars spent the last academic year preparing themselves to lead a university-wide discussion of that topic. We trained ourselves, steeped ourselves in the debates, the writings, the issues, then began to sort out ways of taking our training and bringing it back to the community./'
Last spring, the Gustafson Seminar hosted a public two-day workshop on “Educating the Vitalities of the Mind,” led by Catharine R. Stimpson, University Professor of English and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University. In addition to Stimpson’s presentations, faculty who did not participate in the Gustafson Seminar were invited to respond to the seminar’s report. Stimpson also delivered a public lecture titled “’Bathing in Reeking Wounds’: The Liberal Arts and War,” the text of which is available on the Academic Exchange website at

This Academic Exchange issue includes the Gustafson Scholars’ collective statement of our process and its outcomes during the seminar, interviews with two seminar members on the topic of undergraduate curricula in the liberal arts, Stimpson’s response to the seminar’s statement, and responses from two other Emory faculty members who were not part of the seminar.—L.R