Warsaw conclave backs liberal arts

November 10, 2000

Thirty-nine of Eastern Europe's leading universities and colleges have signed a declaration calling for greater recognition and support for liberal arts education in the region.

The "declaration of institutional commitment", made following a conference in Warsaw last month, suggests that integrating liberal arts education into students' courses will help maintain the momentum of democratic change needed in countries that are only a decade away from communism.

The signatories of the Warsaw declaration - rectors and delegates from Russian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, Belarussian and other Eastern European institutions see the humanities as an essential field for further development.

The declaration, signed after the Artes Liberales conference, organised in the Polish capital by the New York-based Educational Leadership Program, states: "We must prepare the next generation to live and to assume leadership roles in a globalised world, where it is essential that citizens be tolerant of other traditions and respectful of local differences."

Challenging students to "become thoughtful human beings and responsible citizens" should take place within a framework of better teaching, professional workshops and student exchange programmes, the signatories said.

Nicholas Farnham, president of ELP, said the past ten years had seen great change in Central and Eastern European societies, and universities could play a role in the continuing evolution of the region.

A liberal-arts approach encouraging more interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary study, closer integration of research and teaching, the introduction of academic credits as an instrument of greater freedom of choice and other reforms could all help this process.

"The Americans at the conference were very impressed by the way the Eastern Europeans were approaching the idea of liberal arts methodology," said Mr Farnham. "It is taken as given in these countries that disciplines must change. In America it is not given, and it is considered avant garde to think in such terms."

Jerzy Axer, a classicist from Warsaw University and director of a number of inter-regional and inter-institutional liberal arts bodies, said: "What we need to do is to try to build liberal arts laboratories from within rather than attempt to change the systematic structures altogether."

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