Dr. Gregory Woodward is president of Carthage College, a private, liberal arts college in Kenosha, WI. Since taking office in 2012, Dr. Woodward has worked to strengthen campus-wide engagement.
Here he shares his thoughts on the Western Heritage Program, a JMC partner program, on how their program supports student engagement at Carthage, and why this education is important for their future as citizens.
JMC has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Western Heritage Program, in no small part because Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence grounded in the foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Please tell us more about this unique program.
GW: The Western Heritage Program is the major foundational component of our entire core curriculum. We’re not talking about some students taking this or we think it’s good for a few kids—virtually every single freshman takes these courses their first year. They follow that up in their sophomore year with courses which build upon the foundations of the two Western Heritage courses.
We analyze positions of the authors and the characters. We study the links between great thinking, great ideas, and the great writers of the Western intellectual tradition. It’s taught by people who are truly dedicated to the topic. They believe in what they’re teaching, and it’s just a complete success from every possible angle.
Some of the students love the course the minute they’re in it, some aren’t quite so sure, and some of them don’t like it. But I will tell you one interesting fact. We surveyed the students later when they were seniors, and almost every single student said that looking back on it, it might have been the single most important experience of their college career.
The Western Heritage Program’s, Hannibal Lecture Series draws students, without mandate or extra credit, to hear about topics related to books they read in the classroom. How do you think the series and the program more generally help to create an intellectual community on campus?
GW: It’s quite amazing. I have never experienced this before. You could bring Albert Einstein to a campus and have 20 kids who kind of wander in with their headphones on. But every single one of these lectures that I’ve attended were standing room only.
There’s a presentation and then questions from the audience. And the kids step up. They step up to the level of discord, to the intellectual quality of the presentation. They know their readings. They understand some of the deeper thoughts. They’re able to suggest ideas from their own work in the Western Heritage course sequence. It’s even stronger evidence of how successful the program is.
Why do you think this education is important for all students, particularly those whose majors are outside the humanities?
GW: If you realize that all the freshman learn about these same things, then every course after that can draw upon that knowledge and that experience. But especially outside the humanities, the program ensures that students are going to have a core understanding, a core grounding of the Western tradition and what that means either for themselves, or perhaps more importantly, across the entire student body.
As a liberal arts college, Carthage’s core curriculum is designed to produce well-rounded individuals. How do you think this type of education prepares students for their future?
GW: There is data across the higher-ed spectrum that demonstrates the rewards of a liberal arts education. If they have a basic understanding of government, of economics, literature and art, philosophy and language, we think they’ll be able to address any problem, in their personal lives and careers, in more informed and broader ways.
The world is a dangerous place because of narrow thinking. We’re trying to get away from that narrowness. We want them to be good thinkers, to develop broad-thinking young people who will be great citizens.
How does the Western Heritage Program prepare students for their responsibilities as citizens?
GW: We profess in our mission statement that our end goal is to create a curiosity for lifelong learning in students who will then find their true vocation, their true selves and build skills and use them to the betterment of others. They will be better neighbors, better voters, better activists in their community.
They will be people who will understand the way government works, the reason why the American people and politics are shaped the way they are, the way we think, the way we act. They’ll understand the principles upon which the Western tradition and mainly the American tradition progressed. And I believe the country will be better for it.