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ACM and "Big Ten" Explore Ways to Collaborate through Mellon-Funded Planning Workshops

Published: June 18, 2012

Go to ACM Notes

Many of the differences between liberal arts colleges and research universities – such as size, scope, and mission – are obvious. However, there are also significant areas in which these types of institutions face similar challenges in providing effective, innovative education while containing costs. Are there ways they might be able to join forces?

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $109,000 planning grant to the ACM in partnership with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), an academic consortium of universities in the Big Ten Conference along with the University of Chicago, to explore areas of common ground and the potential for collaboration between the two groups.

"This planning grant presents a timely opportunity for two very distinctive and key sectors in higher education to strengthen their capacities to serve students in the Midwest," said ACM President Christopher Welna. "The project is structured to encourage faculty and their respective institutions to think more imaginatively about how we can draw on collective strengths to solve problems together. We’re very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its support."

The project, called Enhancing the Midwest Knowledge Ecosystem (EMKE), will gather faculty and campus leaders from ACM and CIC institutions at three planning workshops during the 2012-13 academic year, where they will share information about existing programs and the needs of their campuses, and consider ideas for collaborative initiatives focused on the humanities and the arts.

Initial discussions between the ACM and the CIC have identified five broad areas that seem promising for collaboration, and from which topics for the three workshops might be drawn:

  • Strengthening the humanities through the digital humanities;
  • Expanding models for undergraduate research;
  • Fostering joint learning communities and public engagement;
  • Enriching the creative and performing arts; and
  • Developing resources for less commonly taught languages.

An EMKE steering committee and consortial staff will build on the output of those meetings to generate proposals for long-term, large-scale collaborative projects to present to the Mellon Foundation for funding consideration.

The project's name grows out of a report for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs by James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, in which he recommends that the Midwest, as a region, needs to develop and support a "knowledge ecology" that can adapt to address the challenges of a rapidly-changing world. Colleges and universities would play an important role in this effort.

The ACM, established five decades ago, and the CIC, which boasts nearly 60 years of collaboration, have strong institutional structures to support the EMKE project. There also is an ongoing web of connections among the members of the two consortia arising through their students and faculty. Many students from ACM colleges are attracted to graduate study in CIC universities, and many CIC graduate students have gone on to teach at ACM colleges, comprising 30-40 percent of the full-time faculty at many ACM institutions.

These connections make clear that liberal arts colleges, which are especially known for their teaching, also are sites of excellent research. Research universities, seen as hubs of high level research, also sponsor excellent teaching, as well as research into good teaching.

For both types of institutions, collaboration across sectors fostered by this project could promote greater financial and curricular flexibility, and the sharing of costs, specialized resources, and institutional learning among a larger group of institutions in the Midwest region.

The first of the three workshops, expected to take place in early 2013, will be hosted by a CIC member institution. The remaining workshops will follow in summer and fall 2013 on ACM and CIC campuses, respectively.


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