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Speakers at MDC Forum Tout Liberal Arts Education as Key to Producing Well-Rounded Citizens

Important local and national leaders from academia, business and the non-profit sectors convened at event titled "Responsibility in a Time of Crisis," which the college co-hosted with the Association of American Colleges and Universities

MDC president and AAC&U chair, Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, AAC&U president, Dr. Carol Geary Schneider and Dr. Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and former president of Indiana University meet at the recent LEAP Forum titled Responsibility in a Time of Crisis where Ehrlich served as keynote speaker. Nearly 200 leaders from across the nation in academia, business, government and the non-profit sector convened at the event.

Miami, May 22, 2009 - Major university presidents, business leaders, elected officials, non-profit heads, and students gathered at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus May 21 to attend a one day forum titled Responsibility in a Time of Crisis headlined by keynote speaker and top national thinker Dr. Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and former president of Indiana University.

Co-hosted by Miami Dade College (MDC) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the event was part of the AAC&U’s LEAP Forum series and aimed at harnessing the talents of all sectors of business and society to create better citizens engaged in their community and ethical at the workplace and in the home. It was a timely and provocative discussion given the present scandals and problems across many industries sending the economy into recession.

“In retrospect, some of the strengths of a good liberal education would have been helpful in responding to the signs that this meltdown was coming, particularly skepticism and insistence on viewing issues from multiple perspectives. Both of those qualities might have encouraged us to question the notion that the U.S. economy would keep on growing and with it the global economy. At its best, a liberal education fosters a deep sense of skepticism about accepted dogma. That sense means that one should not accept explanations for what is going on in the world without demanding the evidence, weighing the evidence against possible competing claims, and then reaching judgments,” said Ehrlich during his speech.

“Some colleges and universities build moral and civic learning into undergraduate education. They make a conscious effort to reach all of their students and use approaches to address the full range of dimensions that constitute moral and civic development.   Miami Dade College is a prime example, for it has a clear set of learning outcomes. I also salute the AAC&U for its vision in creating LEAP.”

LEAP - Liberal Education and America’s Promise - is a ten year project to spark debate and discussion on the essential outcomes all students need to succeed in the workplace and in life. That’s why following Ehrlich’s address,  Dr. Willis N. Holcombe - chancellor, Florida Department of Education, Division of Community Colleges; Barry Johnson - president & CEO, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; Dr. J. Bernard Machen - president of the University of Florida; and Robert Meyers - executive director, Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust served as respondents, sharing their reactions to the speech.

“I’ll actually take it a step further. We’ve all heard of ‘no child left behind,’ but what institutions must do is implement a ‘no citizen left behind’ approach. That’s what MDC is doing and that’s why they’re the people’s college providing our community accessible and affordable quality education along with avenues for civic involvement,” said Johnson. “At the chamber, we’ve understood that working with higher education makes the region’s business climate better for all. Businesses need a ready workforce that not only meets their needs but that is also ethnically, ethically and civically sensitive and informed.”

Dr. Machen urged leaders to “catch the wave” of energy emanating from young students. “They are driving positive changes,” he added.

Later in the Forum, the nearly 200 participants split into three key discussion groups spearheaded by leaders in business and academia - Democracy’s Promise moderated by Dr. Lewis M. Duncan, president of Rollins College; Diversity: Common Threads and Multiple Perspectives moderated by Bill Diggs, president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce; and Citizenship and the Workplace moderated by Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council. After some spirited discussions, all participants reconvened to hear the reports from each discussion leader.

Said Diggs, “We’ve made a lot of strides in getting people more engaged and accepting. The Obama factor certainly helped. However, we need to continue pushing those conversations on diversity and ethical behavior at school, at the workplace and in the home. We’re on the right track. Perhaps higher education can also reverse the funnel of its curriculum and learning approach so that instead of students finishing with very specific core courses in their majors, they end their educational experience with the broader service learning, global citizenship and arts and humanities courses.”

“Many students think that personal and social responsibility outcomes are low priorities - both for college learning and for work. That’s what we’re addressing with LEAP since applying these outcomes or skills to new settings and complex problems are keys to success,” said Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U president. “Miami Dade College tracks the essential learning outcomes students need to succeed very closely. It is exemplary. The college leadership also understands the need to increase the dialogue between education and the business community.”

“We can’t lose the sense of optimism of ‘Yes We Can.’ The conversation is needed with the whole community, not just academia,” added Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, MDC president and AAC&U chair. “I am encouraged by today’s robust conversations but they can’t stay in this room.”

Organizers closed the Forum by encouraging all participants to return to their workplaces and/or spheres of influence and lead discussions on civic engagement, diversity and ethics that can effectuate positive change.

“It is incumbent on all of us, particularly in a time of economic crisis, to speak up and speak out on the need for strong liberal learning that truly addresses these key themes of engagement, acceptance and ethics,” added Ehrlich. 

For more information, please contact the Office of the MDC Provost for Academic and Student Affairs at 305-237-7527.


Media-only contacts:
Juan Mendieta, 305-237-7611,, MDC communications director
Tarnell Carroll, 305-237-3359,, media specialist
Sue Arrowsmith, 305-237-3710,, media specialist
Alejandro Rios, 305-237-7482,

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