The Center for Liberal Arts and Society (CLAS) at Franklin & Marshall endeavors to provide a vibrant, intellectual space where faculty, students, and staff, as well as our fellow citizens in Lancaster, can learn, analyze, and reflect on the complex and challenging issues facing us all.
By connecting academic studies in the liberal arts and sciences to pressing cultural and social questions--from the expansion of democratic participation, the ethics and politics of war and peace, to the mechanics of how people learn, we aim to demonstrate the critical relevance of liberal learning to civic life.
We do this through our signature programs, speakers and colloquia, which enrich the curricula, foster interdisciplinary collaboration, and engage the academic community as well as the general public.
Founded in 1998, CLAS was a response to a widespread faculty call for co-curricular programming that linked activities in various departments with the outside world. Individual department efforts were difficult to implement due to lack of administrative and financial resources, thus an umbrella center -- CLAS -- was conceived under which faculty initiatives could be implemented.
A task force of faculty members met during the spring of 1998 and designed a proposal for the fledgling center. Their final recommendation, "to create opportunities for students and faculty in order to connect the principles and goals of liberal education to the needs of the world of public affairs," resulted in the formation of CLAS.
In 1999, under the Center's first director, Stanley Michalak, The Honorable John C. and Mrs. Kunkel Professor of Government Emeritus, CLAS kicked off a yearlong inaugural program that focused on global warming. Speakers that year included R. Wallace Broecker of Columbia University, Eric Barron of The Pennsylvania State University, Daniel Reifsnyder of the U.S. Department of State, Marvin Soroos of North Carolina State University, Glenn Kelly of the Global Climate Coalition, and Seth Dunn of World Watch.
"The Center is grounded in the belief that the purpose of a liberal education is not to prepare students for graduate education, but to ready them for life and citizenship," wrote Michalak. Global warming was chosen as a topic because, according to Michalak, it was "a truly non-disciplinary issue, drawing upon people in biology, economics, foreign policy, geology, international politics, and organization, philosophy, and religious studies."
Subsequent CLAS colloquia have included "War and Peace," and "The Work of Democracy," "What Does it take to Build a Person?" and "The State of the World at the New Millennium."
As CLAS moves forward into the 21st century, it keeps in mind the founding principle of involving students in the exercise of considering their responsibility at citizens, in engaging them in conversation with significant leaders from industry, government, the arts and the professions. It also seeks to support collaborative, interdisciplinary scholarly projects that enable faculty to work with colleagues both on campus and from other institutions.
The Center is under the auspices of Franklin & Marshall's Office of the Provost and is advised by a committee comprising members of the Franklin & Marshall faculty. Now in its thirteenth year, CLAS oversees the Bonchek Institute for Reason and Science in a Liberal Democracy, the Seachrist Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, and the F&M Votes Coalition. Its current director is Laurie T. Baulig.