University of Rochester


November 16, 1995


The College's mission has two fundamental and interrelated components: The provision of the highest quality education and the creation and dissemination of new knowledge. We seek to prepare our students to become accomplished and productive citizens in a free society, and to be among the leaders of their generation, both in the nation and the world. The educational mission consists both of undergraduate education and graduate education, the latter of which connects closely with the creation of new knowledge.

The Undergraduate Educational Mission

Curricular Choice -- Breadth and Depth. To prepare students for the increasingly complex and rapidly changing world of the future, we need a contemporary model for the aims of undergraduate higher education. People think about and appreciate the world in numerous and diverse ways -- humanistic, scientific, artistic, mathematical, and poetic, to name but a few. Although it is unrealistic for students to acquire expertise in all these areas, we ask our undergraduates to achieve both a working knowledge of the recognized core modes of thinking and substantial competence in at least one of them. The ability not simply to understand, but to work with different modes of understanding, is fundamental to a liberal education for the future (by which we mean a broad education spanning the range of human knowledge).

We regard our students as intelligent partners in the process of learning. Guided by our educational goals and standards, undergraduates have a high degree of freedom to determine their own educational paths. In the United States, the college years are the quintessential time for choice and decision in education. They are the years in which learning different subjects coincides with learning about the self. Students, like faculty, learn best when their learning is motivated by curiosity and interest. We aim to nurture both in our students, through the freedom of choice in our curriculum.

Pre-college education tends to follow relatively prescriptive paths and focuses on the transmission of the sorts of knowledge upon which reflective inquiry and creative insight can later be added. Post-college education, almost invariably, begins an important process of specialization, where the goal of breadth of knowledge becomes secondary to the goal of specific expertise. It is primarily the role -- and the genius -- of undergraduate education in the United States to focus on the set of intellectual skills required by future leaders without prescribing the areas or fields to which they might lead. The new curriculum of the College, we believe, fully accomplishes this goal.

Rochester's undergraduate curriculum employs a simple process to achieve these goals. Each student will acquire competence in the core ways of thinking that are conventionally identified -- humanities; social sciences; and sciences and engineering -- by successfully completing a "major" in one field, and either a minor or a planned sequence of at least three courses (a "cluster") in each of the other two areas of human thinking not fulfilled by the student's major. These are the only requirements of our curriculum, except for the freshman writing requirement. There are no language requirements, and no specific subjects singled out as more preferred than others. Students are free to choose their own educational paths within these simple guidelines. This, we believe, forms the distinctive feature of undergraduate education at Rochester.

The presence of the College within a major university setting enriches the possibilities to be pursued in undergraduate education -- scientific, artistic, pre-professional, and professional training with the context of the undergraduate experience. We wish to foster and cultivate these possibilities within the broad structure of the curriculum. Thus, for example, students may acquire a Management Certificate by taking a mix of courses, some within the College's liberal arts and science curriculum, and some within the Simon School's business curriculum. Some students pursue a pre-medical training, often importantly augmented by biomedical science courses offered in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Some students pursue musical performance training within the Eastman School of Music as a part of their undergraduate studies in the College. Arrangements to acquire professional degrees in 3-2 programs abound, including those between the College and the Simon School, the Warner School of Education and Human Development, and the School of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as intra-College opportunities in engineering, public policy, and other programs. These -- and many more -- expand the horizons of students enrolled at Rochester. Importantly, these opportunities augment, and do not conflict with, the primary goals of the Rochester curriculum, which seeks to assure each student's familiarity with the principal modes of human understanding as discussed previously.

Inquiry-Based Learning. A second important component of the College's mission is to ground liberal education in the creation of new knowledge. All of our faculty carry out research of one sort or another, and research is judged as central to their work as teachers. For some, research means work in a laboratory assisted by technicians and students. For others, it involves spending time with computers carrying out statistical studies of large databases. For still others, it involves sitting with a pad and pencil, thinking a lot and writing down a little. Yet others pour over original sources, perhaps others' memoirs, perhaps remnants of a past society, to make new connections. The ways of carrying out research are as varied as the many ways of thinking that our faculty share. But in all of this work, whether called "scholarship" or "research," we find ourselves embarking on one of the most exciting and stimulating things that people can do -- the creation of new knowledge. We wish to share that excitement, and the ways that we think about the world while doing this, with our students. Thus, our educational program offers students the opportunity to share in inquiry-based courses, beginning in the first semester of the first year, through our Quest courses. In these courses, limited to 25 students per section, faculty teach --often in teams -- by engaging students in the methodologies that underlie their own basic quest for new knowledge. As faculty, we think; we talk over ideas with colleagues; we read; we test our ideas against the real world to see if they fit, if they improve our understanding of what happens in the world and universe surrounding us. Then we re-read, re-discuss, re-test, and re-think. This process of "revisiting" the problem and the ideas surrounding its solution form the fundamental basis for scholarship, so we design our teaching in the Quest courses to follow these same principles. This same concept carries forward into later years of the undergraduate experience through research tracks, independent research seminars, intensive upper-class research projects in many classes, and (for the very best students) participation in graduate seminars.

Learning Beyond the Classroom. A third basic tenet of our vision of liberal education says that learning begins, but does not end, in the classroom. The process by which students learn from peers and from exposure to ways of thinking distinct from their own, forms an important part of the intellectual preparation of future leaders that undergraduate education can distinctively provide. This means, most importantly, that we must provide an intellectual environment on campus conducive to students working with each other, with faculty, and where appropriate, with graduate students, both inside and outside the classroom.

Creation of New Knowledge and Graduate Education

Central to our mission at the College and the University is the creation of new knowledge (and in artistic and performance fields, comparable acts of creation). We expect all faculty to participate in this endeavor, and to carry their insights from their creative work into their teaching. In many, but not all, parts of the College and the University this activity joins with the teaching of graduate and professional students in more specialized training.

One could in concept specify high-quality graduate education as a separate mission of the College, but in fact, such a statement has no sustainable meaning: Virtually no models exist in this country where graduate education exists alone as a free-standing enterprise. Rather, it is always coupled with undergraduate education. (By contrast, many institutions exist where free-standing undergraduate education exists, often coupled with the creation of new knowledge, but usually at a less intense effort than we demand at the University of Rochester.) This observation about the fiscal realities of the world of education means that graduate education -- taken on the whole -- requires the presence of a viable undergraduate institution for survival. Obviously, a separate endowment or government intervention to support research and graduate education would alter this conclusion, but without such external support, one rarely, if ever, finds free-standing graduate educational enterprises. Since our mission of providing excellent education to our students includes the education of graduate students (and post-baccalaureate professional students, within the College, as well as for the University more generally), the co-dependence of graduate education on a successful undergraduate education leads to the pragmatic reality that graduate education offerings must focus most closely on those areas where they either support the undergraduate enterprise, the creation of new knowledge, or both. In any case, no matter what the financial support available from other sources, our commitment to excellence in education would require us either to focus on areas of graduate education where we had achieved excellence or to commit resources to improve areas where we had not yet achieved excellence, but where reasonable prospects existed to do so.


This vision has several immediate implications for how we organize the College at the University of Rochester. There needs to be an intellectual community, and there need to be structures, such as a residential college, designed to facilitate these goals. The College must be compact enough to accomplish many of these goals. Each part of the College (i.e., each department or program) must contribute to the community of scholars in its own special way, but all must share in the commitment to helping students learn how to think in different ways. Departments usually reflect established disciplines, but both majors and clusters can arise through collaboration between departments.

Roles of Departments. The common missions of every department include the provision of excellent education and the creation of new knowledge (scholarship). In a number of, but not all, areas this dual mission creates a third part of the University's activities -- the teaching of graduate and professional students. Graduate students within traditional disciplines increase their knowledge beyond that obtained by undergraduates within a traditional "major," often then returning to teach in their discipline at a college or university. Professional students (e.g., in medicine, business, engineering, education, music, or nursing) acquire further knowledge in a variety of related areas, all coordinated to allow them to fulfill important roles in our society in industry, government, the service sector, or perhaps for some, returning to the university to teach and carry out research.

In the College, we focus our attention in graduate and post-baccalaureate professional education on those areas where such activity is vital to our primary missions of liberal education and the creation of new knowledge. (Much other important professional education takes place in the University, of course, in separate and distinct professional schools, including medicine, business, education, nursing, and music.) We cannot, because of fiscal realities, accomplish these missions identically in every field of inquiry. Thus, our graduate educational programs arise in those areas where the graduate students add the most to the process of liberal education, where the research and scholarship of the faculty most depend on the presence of graduate students, and finally, where we are or can become one of the very best in the country in creating new scholars in our fields of inquiry. This focusing of effort and resources helps us to add most effectively to the ever-increasing body of human knowledge -- both through our own efforts, those of the next generation of scholars we have trained, and, in turn, their successors.

Our dedication to the creation of new knowledge also requires that we sustain all faculty members with sufficient resources to accomplish that goal. In many cases, the traditional approach of combining graduate education with the creation of new knowledge satisfies this goal. In other cases, alternatives must be supported, possibly bringing post- doctoral fellows into a department, possibly providing summer research support or travel money, or possibly supporting a conference of scholars within a discipline at Rochester to nurture and extend our own scholars' ability to create new knowledge.

Our vision for liberal education in the College brings further implications. Our student body, for example, must be both intelligent and diverse in order to allow the most effective exchange among all members of the academic community - - undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. This educational process will function better in a more compact setting as well, with smaller classes, and -- where possible -- with most of the students living on campus, and hence interacting with each other both in and out of the classroom, so as to gain the most from their educational experience at Rochester.

The ability of the University to carry out these missions in the future depends as well on finalizing our current efforts to accomplish them within prudent and sustainable fiscal constraints. Every activity of the College, from undergraduate programs and graduate programs to research programs, capital investments, and "non-academic" student activities, must face a dual common test: (a) does this use of resources contribute to the overall mission of the University to justify its continuance at the current level, and (b) is the collection of such activities sustainable into the future? Careful and continual application of these principles to every program and activity within the College is necessary for our best success in fulfilling our missions.