The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts at Al Akhawayn University:
A Journey Begun, A Journey Continuing
In 1994, King Hassan II addressed the challenges facing Morocco’s system of higher education and emphasized the need for reforms. At the heart of these reforms was the need for educational opportunities that “touch the depths of every individual.” The king implored that these depths be reached by “the creation of a world university which could become the peaceful educational spearhead for all peoples and languages.” In the founding document of Al Akhawayn University, this bold vision was given focus and multidimensional scope. Twin goals were confidently affirmed: promoting universal values as well as advancing the country’s historic vocation as a land of encounters, liberty, and tolerance. Al Akhawayn’s groundbreaking educational mandate was declared to be “a forum for the creation and confrontation of human progress in all fields of knowledge, as well as a framework for cooperation and understanding among people and civilizations.”
Inspired by the distinctive achievements of American higher education – renowned for its world-standard research productivity and the diverse intellectual and career-preparation advantages of liberal arts pedagogy – Hassan II established at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe an innovative community of universal learning deeply anchored in the profound values of reason and faith. Interestingly, the critical role that an education in the liberal arts could provide its students specifically cited the keystone classical subjects of Rhetoric (Usul), Logic or Exegesis (Hadith), and Grammar (Ulum al-ishtiqaq). By bringing these skills into partnership with the insights of technology and science, it was argued that Morocco would not simply rise to its full potential as a 21st century nation, but it would also provide the larger world with an example to emulate. Fifty years before Al Akhawayn’s stirring creation, Stringfellow Barr, a key architect of America’s 20th century revival of liberal arts education, offered a comparable challenge to his fellow Americans.
“The world is rapidly dividing into technicians who are unmoved by the great ideas of literature and philosophy, and self-called cultured people who know nothing about how technology and science move us. What shall we do?” he said.
As the 21st century launches its journey, Al Akhawayn University’s distinctive mission is a witness to both these visionary ambitions.
What, then, does it mean that Al Akhawayn defines itself as an institution of liberal arts higher education? First and foremost, education is not training. While graduates of Al Akhawayn enter the workplace with credentials highly valued by diverse career professions, the value of their Al Akhawayn degrees is anchored in the lifelong learning skills that are uniquely the rewards of direct engagement with the liberal arts. Learning how to think for oneself, how to engage and solve problems not owned by any one subject matter or methodological approach, and having the confidence to participate as a full citizen in an increasingly global economy are the distinguishing advantages of an education that “touches the depth of every individual.” The skills of liberal education are the skills of lifelong learning and discovery. These are also the skills that employers most value.
Indeed, when it comes to what kind of education is most productive of successful careers, liberal education is demonstrably the education with impact. At a 2010 meeting of human resources directors representing major international and Moroccan companies, the appeal of liberally educated rather than vocationally educated individuals was affirmed.
“I don’t hire an Al Akhawayn graduate only because she has studied business or engineering. I hire her because she can write and think and communicate effectively, and because she’s adaptable to various kinds of work situations,” said one HR expert who spoke on behalf of colleagues.
The World Bank now predicts young people in the early 21st century will over the course of their lives have not just one career but as many as four distinct careers, and not just one or two jobs but as many as a dozen. The careers and jobs of the future cannot, at the beginning of the 21st century, even be identified. For those educated in the foundational skills of the liberal arts, rather than those merely trained towards short-term vocational or occupational goals, the uncharted future is in fact a future confidently within their successful ownership.
The substance of a genuine liberal arts education provides its practitioners with the ability to recognize basic human problems, not just to acquire the tools by which to find a job. At Al Akhawayn University, students have the opportunity to select major subject matter fields of study that range from physics to poetry, science to sociology, accounting to astronomy, engineering to etymology, literature to logic, history to human resources, and many more. Importantly, Al Akhawayn provides its students with rigorous opportunities to explore subjects that in their diversity of content and methodologies identify a sophisticated center of higher education. Excellence in these disciplinary fields is a critical goal of higher education.
But liberal arts higher education is not just about the mastery of career-defining subjects. It is most fundamentally the acquisition of independent-thinking skills. The skills that a student earns in liberal education are the skills needed to address the most wide-reaching problems in our individual and shared human journeys, demanding clarity of mind and heart. Those who possess the ability to distinguish what is most relevant from what is not, those who know how to work effectively with others, and most importantly those who have earned the insights and skills to comprehend fundamental forces that affect one’s own life and one’s larger community are the men and women who will be the leaders of the future – this has always been the case for liberal arts graduates. They rise to challenges that have yet to be named and they embrace leadership roles in their professional and communal lives, knowing that no question of human endeavor and imagination is beyond their eventual understanding. Liberal education, in short, is education in our shared humanity.
Under the academic, professional, and career-focused supervision of the School of Business Administration, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the School of Science and Engineering, Al Akhawayn University offers 508 courses in 38 academic departments affording students with opportunities to earn one or more of 21 undergraduate and graduate degrees. Each of these intellectually demanding courses of study is anchored in the liberal arts inspired University Core Curriculum, an innovation amongst Moroccan higher education institutions. All Al Akhawayn students are required to address its seven objectives, demonstrating:
- Global competence by engaging diverse multicultural environments.
- Knowledge of local, regional, and global issues.
- Lifelong learning skills and attitudes.
- Personal, social, and intellectual development.
- Critical and problem solving oriented thinking, both verbally and quantitatively.
- Competence in diverse information technologies.
- Linguistic and written communication skills in English, French, and Arabic.
Whatever the specific degree program or elected major or minor field of study, every Al Akhawayn student will encounter throughout their university experience these seven core educational objectives. Successfully addressing these objectives depends upon the extent to which a student takes up the challenges at the heart of the traditional yet enduring values of liberal arts learning. At Al Akhawayn, no degree field of study stands apart from others. Indeed it is the connection between the diverse discoveries of human intellect and imagination that provides Al Akhawayn students with the kind of integrated learning that will prepare them for successful lifelong learning and careers, whether in Morocco or anywhere else in the world their talents or ambitions take them.
In its daily teaching, research, and national service commitments, Al Akhawayn University practices the mandate by which it came into creation: to provide an education in universal values designed to produce world-focused leadership for the 21st century. Those who opt to become students at Al Akhawayn are offered a special opportunity: they are invited to become pioneers in a life-changing and nation-building journey. Ahead, roads yet uncharted will rise to meet them.