MFSMidwest Faculty Seminar

Current Conference

Travel/Accommodations / Upcoming Institutes

The Future of Higher Education APRIL 24-26, 2014

Talk of crisis is nothing new in debates about higher education in the United States—American colleges and universities have undergone numerous important transformations throughout their history. However, our current economic climate, coupled with the rise of MOOCs and other forms of digital learning, has put the problems facing higher education in the US into new relief. Indeed, while higher education is as important as ever to economic success, students and parents find themselves increasingly unable to afford the cost of a college degree, and many observers have raised new concerns about what students learn while pursuing degrees. In short, both the economic and intellectual foundations of US higher education, for so long taken for granted, are now increasingly in doubt. Where do we go from here?

This seminar explores the future of higher education in the United States, with a particular focus on the kinds of problems facing liberal arts colleges and other teaching-focused institutions today. It therefore begins with an examination of the problem of college finances, focusing on both the rapidly rising costs borne by students and families and the increasing difficulty that many institutions of higher education have in ensuring their own financial stability. What is responsible for the steadily rising cost of higher education in the United States? What are its consequences? And who, in the end, should pay for it?

However, the seminar also explores the purpose of higher education at a time in which the economic benefits of a college degree are for many people harder and harder to see. What is college good for? More particularly, what is the purpose of the liberal arts at a time in which the knowledge and skills that such an education imparts seems under-appreciated by employers and policy makers alike? Should the liberal arts continue to defend themselves as before? Or does our present predicament presage a re-thinking of what is at stake in the development of students’ intellectual skills?

Finally, in addition to examining questions of higher ed finances and the purpose of the liberal arts, the seminar also explores the increasingly important question of how teachers and administrators can better ensure that students learn what they teach. To what extent have the desired outcomes of a liberal arts education changed in the recent past, if they have changed at all? How can we align our goals with the teaching strategies currently available to us? Are we actually living in a time in which the internet threatens to upend what we believe only an in-the-flesh teacher can achieve? Or can a liberal arts education be made to work with the disruptive forces supposedly arrayed against it?

In surveying the range of problems facing institutions of higher education in the United States, the seminar hopes, in one sense, to help participants come to a better sense of the predicaments that occupy so much of the time of faculty and administrators working in colleges and universities today. At the same time, however, the seminar also tries to chart the outlines of possible futures for higher education in the United States.

Presenters will include Don Randel (former president of the Mellon Foundation), Donald Levine (Sociology- University of Chicago), Harold Wechsler (Education-New York University), Christopher Welna (President of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest), Ofer Malamud (Public Policy-University of Chicago), and William Pannapacker (English-Hope College).


  • Don Levine, Powers of the Mind: The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 24-36, 177-203. [PDF]
    • A re-evaluation of the foundations of liberal education based in the author’s career at the University of Chicago
  • Daphne Koller, “The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone,” [YouTube]
    • An argument about the power of online education to expand access to higher learning
  • Don Randel, “The Market Made Me Do It,” Liberal Education 98.3 (Summer 2012) [Online] [PDF]
    • An account of the effect of market ideology in higher education in the United States
  • William Pannapacker, “No More Digitally Challenged Liberal Arts Majors: How to give B.A.’s in arts and humanities more career options without abandoning the life of the mind,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 18, 2013 [Online]
    • An argument about how to incorporate digital literacy into liberal arts education
  • Hanna Holborn Gray, Searching for Utopia: Universities and their Histories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 61-93. [PDF]
    • An analysis of the challenges facing contemporary Higher Education in the United States
  • American Council of Learned Societies, “Liberal Arts Colleges in American Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities,” ACLA Occasional Paper Series 59, Introduction and “The Past: The Liberal Arts Mission in Historical Context” [PDF]
    • An overview of the history of liberal arts institutions in the United States
  • William G. Bowen, The ‘Cost Disease’ in Higher Education: Is Technology the Answer? Tanner Lectures, Stanford University, October 2012. [PDF]
    • An analysis of the “cost disease” and its role in driving up the economic burden of higher education


Thursday, April 24th, 2014

  • 8:20 a.m. Shuttle leaves Hyatt Place Hotel for Regenstein Library (1100 East 57th Street)

  • 8:45 a.m. Check-in, coffee

  • 9:00 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks

    • Elizabeth O'Connor Chandler, Director, Midwest Faculty Seminar
    • Regenstein 122
  • 9:10 a.m. Why Should the Future of Higher Education Be Different From the Past?

    • Don Randel, Former President of the University of Chicago and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
    • Regenstein 122
  • 10:25 a.m. Coffee

  • 10:45 a.m. Back to the Future: An Historian's View

    • Harold Wechsler, New York University
    • Regenstein 122
  • 12:00 noon Lunch (on your own)

    • Preparing Future Faculty Luncheon (for those taking part) 12:15-1:30
    • Bartlett Lounge
  • 2:00 p.m. Breadth vs. Depth in Higher Education

    • Ofer Malamud, Public Policy, University of Chicago
    • Bartlett Lounge
  • 3:15 p.m. Coffee

  • 3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Participant Discussion Groups

    • Group A, (William Rando) Regenstein Room 207
    • Group B, (William Pannapacker) Regenstein Room 503
  • 5:05 p.m. Shuttle leaves Regenstein Library for La Petite Folie

  • 5:30 p.m. Reception and Dinner at La Petite Folie

  • 8:00 p.m. Shuttle leaves La Petite Folie for the Hyatt Place Hotel

Friday, April 25th, 2014:

  • 9:15 a.m. Shuttle leaves Hyatt Place Hotel for Bartlett Hall (5640 S. University Ave.)

  • 9:30 a.m. Money, the Web, and High School Graduates: Challenges Shaping the Future of Liberal Arts Colleges

    • Christopher Welna, President, Associated Colleges of the Midwest
    • Barlett Lounge
  • 10:45 a.m. Coffee

  • 11:00 a.m. What are the Ends of Liberal General Education?

    • Donald Levine, Sociology, University of Chicago
    • Barlett Lounge
  • 12:15 p.m. Lunch and Report on Discussion Groups

    • Lunch will be provided
    • Barlett Lounge
  • 1:15 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Participant Discussion Groups

    • Group A, (William Rando) Regenstein Room 403
    • Group B, (William Pannapacker) Regenstein Room 503
  • 2:50 p.m. Free Afternoon (Shuttle leaves Bartlett Hall for the Hyatt Place Hotel)

Saturday, April 26th, 2014:

  • 8:45 a.m. Shuttle leaves the Hotel for Bartlett Hall (5640 S. University Ave.)

  • 9:15 a.m. Stop Calling It Digital Humanities, Start Calling It Digital Liberal Arts

    • William Pannapacker, English, Hope College
    • Barlett Lounge
  • 10:30 a.m. Report on Discussion Groups

    • Barlett Lounge
  • 10:45 a.m. Participant Discussion Groups and Wrap-Up

    • Discussion groups will meet as one in Bartlett Lounge
  • 12:00 p.m. Adjournment

    • (Shuttle leaves Bartlett Hall for the Hyatt Place Hotel at 12:10 p.m.)
  • 12:30 p.m. Special Programs College Fair

    • Those taking part will walk together to Cobb Hall (5811 S. Ellis Avenue).
  • 1:35 p.m. Second Shuttle takes College Fair Participants from Cobb Hall to the Hyatt Place

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Current Conference / Upcoming Institutes

We are pleased that you will be joining us for a Midwest Faculty Seminar. To make your stay at the University of Chicago as pleasant as possible, we have tried to anticipate the questions you may have regarding the organization of the seminar and your accommodations. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 773.834.4439 or at

Location: The seminar will meet on the University of Chicago Campus. Please refer to the campus map for directions: Seminars begin at 8:45 a.m. on the Thursday of the conference and conclude by 12:00 p.m. on Saturday. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance should call us at least one week in advance of the seminar.

Schedule: A seminar schedule will be sent to you via email and regular mail at least two weeks prior to the seminar. Click here to see a sample schedule. Please note that the seminar begins at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and will end by 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Accommodations: All seminar participants who request housing will stay at the Hyatt Place Hotel, 5225 South Harper Ave, approximately 6 blocks from campus. The phone number is (773) 725-5300. The hotel fee is paid for by the Midwest Faculty Seminar. You will, however, be responsible for incidental charges such as telephone usage and meals (to be paid during your stay). If you have requested a single room, you will be asked to pay for half the costs of the room (approximately $50/night or $150/total). If applicable, you will receive an invoice once hotel reservations have been finalized.

Unless otherwise specified, a room has been reserved for you to check in on Wednesday before the conference, after 3pm, and out on Saturday, by noon. You will need to check out before you come to the seminar on Saturday morning, but you will be able to leave your bags at the front desk in case you need to leave from the hotel (i.e. if you need to catch an airport shuttle). You may also bring your bags to campus if you plan on leaving town directly from the University. If you are planning to arrive or depart at different times, please let us know in advance

Daily shuttle service to and from the campus will be provided by the hotel (see sample schedule for times).

Transportation: For those flying into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Omega Limousine Service is an inexpensive method of traveling to the Chicago Lake Shore Hotel. If you wish to make reservations or have further questions about their regularly scheduled airport routes, please call Omega Limousine Service at (773) 734-6688 or book online at . For those flying into Midway Airport, a taxicab is most convenient and will cost approximately $30.

Parking: Valet parking is available at a parking structure near the hotel for $32/day (your car will be accessible from the garage 24/7). If you wish to drive to the conference, a public parking garage is located on the southeast corner of 55th Street and Ellis Avenue. The rate is $4 per hour with a $20/day maximum fee. Parking in this garage is free from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and on weekends. There is ample free parking surrounding the university, though if you don’t arrive early in the morning it can be very difficult to get a spot. Parking is generally most plentiful on the Midway, which is directly south of the university, between 59th and 60th Street.

Meals: Following the final session on Thursday, all participants are cordially invited to a dinner. On Friday, lunch will be provided. Please let us know as soon as possible if you have any special dietary needs so that I can plan the lunch with the caterer. Participants are responsible for all other meals, though we will have coffee, tea and water available throughout the three days and will have light breakfast items available on Saturday morning. A complimentary breakfast is provided by the hotel.

If you have any questions regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or by email at We look forward to meeting you at the next Midwest Faculty Seminar.