Introduction: Designing a “One BU” Landscape

One of the most important cornerstones of the BU Strategic Plan is the commitment to bringing an institutional cohesion to undergraduate education. Among the main commitments made in this document that plotted the direction of our discussions are the “[insistence] upon exceptional levels of collaboration across departmental boundaries,” the “promotion of research and scholarship within and across traditional disciplinary boundaries,” and the delivery of an education that combines the “rigorous immersion in the liberal arts and sciences combined with practical and powerful professional education” for all undergraduates. (1) Accordingly, in June 2008, a Task Force was convened by University Provost David Campbell with a name that also declared its charge: “One BU: Unlocking the Undergraduate Experience.” Chaired by the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, this Committee worked for twelve months to define a set of shared principles for what constitutes a BU undergraduate education. (2) The Task Force focused on a key question: How can today’s liberal education provide all college students the knowledge, skills, and historical and global perspectives they need to be effective and discriminating in everything they do—in higher education, in the workplace, in their communities and families, and as leaders, practitioners, and teachers? In short, how do we ensure that a Boston University graduate, regardless of the college or major, will possess the tools, enthusiasm, and quest for lifelong learning? (3)

The Task Force was charged with “unlocking” undergraduate education at BU in order to encourage students to take advantage of all facets of the University. To achieve this goal, the Task Force recognized the need to capitalize on BU’s current strengths in research, its world-class faculty and diversity of programs, research and arts opportunities, and our location within the vibrant City of Boston—in short, “The BU Advantage.” We also need to nurture collaboration and cooperation across organizational boundaries.

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The Task Force viewed undergraduate education as the point of convergence of three key elements: 1) the principles of General Education, which includes the fulfillment of arts, humanities, science/math and natural/social science, writing, and professional-school competencies, along with a distinct global component; 2) the Co-curricular Experience, which instills values of leadership, service, community, and citizenship beyond the four walls of the classroom; and 3) Innovation, which includes not only technology but new pedagogical practices and the promotion of learning communities. These elements can converge only when administrative barriers and college-centric policies are eliminated, a point that is the main conclusion of the influential 2007 internal “Barriers Report,” and which is both echoed and unequivocally endorsed by this report.(4) It is clear that new policies and procedures will have to be established to enact, institutionalize, and sustain systematic collaboration and integration of the undergraduate experience across all schools and programs.

Finally, we need to ensure that students, half of whom are destined to work in a field that is different than the one in which they graduated, and of which almost two-thirds—business leaders believe—lack the skills to succeed in a global economy, will be trained to sustain a program of continuous learning so that they can understand the world in its changing physical, interpretive, historical, abstract, and relevant dimensions.(5) Indeed, a program for lifelong learning has been noted as essential for personal development, societal cohesion, and both personal and economic growth.

As we enter a new decade, we have the opportunity to define and realize the One BU experience. This document represents the Task Force’s aspirational efforts to begin that definition, which, we hope, will be a starting point for discussion across the University, and more importantly, the beginning of an operational plan for positive change.

Next: Defining General Education at BU


1. Emphasis ours.

2. Our meetings included individual discussions with the deans of all of the colleges that offer undergraduate programs, as well as with the Director of International Programs. At the midpoint in the year, the Committee formed four subcommittees, each issuing an interim report, in addition to a student report that was prepared by the two undergraduate members of the Committee, Robyn Fialkow and Drew Phillips. The final report was written by two subcommittees, and the final draft was circulated to the entire group for approval.

3. We define “Liberal Education” as does Carol Geary Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): “A philosophy of education that empowers individuals, liberates the mind, cultivates intellectual judgment, and fosters ethical and social responsibility.” We also acknowledge the similarity and indebtedness of our work to the learning outcomes of AAC&U’s influential Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. Finally, we accept the definition of “lifelong learning” as “Those novel forms of teaching and learning that equip students (learners, individuals) to encounter with competence and confidence, the full range of working, learning and life experiences” (Improving Human Research Potential & the Socio-economic Knowledge Base, The European Commission, Briefing Paper 20).

4. On the benefits and methods of instituting collaborative organizations, we have followed Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” Harvard Business Review on Collaborating Across Silos (Cambridge: Harvard Business Press, 2009), 24–25, et passim.

5. College Learning for the New Global Century: Executive Summary with Employers’ Views on Learning Outcomes and Assessment Approaches (Washington, D.C.: AAC&U, 2008), 10.