This program aims to improve student learning by stimulating fresh thinking about the goals of liberal education and generating practical knowledge and know-how that can be widely used in classrooms and on campuses. We encourage our Fresh Thinking work primarily through Requests for Proposals that:
Encourage in-depth analysis of issues of high importance for liberal education, with the ultimate goal of improving and enlivening the educational experience of undergraduate students in the liberal arts;
Expand the empirical base upon which the understanding of such issues depends;
Develop collegial relationships and networks among participants from different institutions and / or among different constituencies on a single college campus;
Produce work that can be circulated so that findings and results can be integrated into the practice of higher education.
Responding to our RFPs are ad hoc working groups consisting of faculty, administrators, staff, and sometimes students, alumni, and trustees from one or more institutions. All groups meet regularly over a period of twelve to twenty-four months, and at the conclusion of the grant period, each produces a White Paper on the topic it has been exploring. These are posted on the Foundation's website as they are submitted. Permission is regularly granted to authors to publish the text in any additional place they choose on whatever terms they negotiate with other publishers.
Embedded in our Fresh Thinking portfolio is a focus on what Mr. Teagle called "religious work." In the early years of the Foundation, Mr. Teagle urged its Board to be sympathetic to appeals for support in this area, and since then, we have helped seminaries, church-related colleges, and charities of a wide range of denominational affiliations. In considering Mr. Teagle's injunction, we have most recently explored the relationship between students' interests in / commitment to religion and their academic / intellectual engagements. We are especially interested in determining whether there are ways in which these two aspects of (some) students' experience can work together to produce a richer and deeper educational experience during the undergraduate years. A September, 2005 Listening on "religious work" investigated this topic and that, along with a Virtual Listening on the relationship of "big questions of meaning and value" and liberal education, led to our RFP for Big Questions working groups.
In addition, the Foundation supported a Social Science Research Council project on "What college teachers should know about the religious engagements of today's undergraduates" which resulted in a forum of essays and guide on the topic.