Mission and Method
Sarah Lawrence College was founded on the belief that even the best of traditional colleges define education too narrowly. Our history has been consistent with that vision. And so we have sought to integrate elements in education that are elsewhere conceived of as mutually exclusive: reason and imagination, subject matter and personal experience, intellectual play and the disciplined pursuit of ideas, an established curriculum and the need to shape one’s own education. In so doing, we offer an opportunity for genuine learning that begins with the experience of each student, with people who come to college with a series of urgent questions based on their backgrounds, needs, values, and goals. We make it possible for students to link their personal concerns to the great traditions of knowledge, and we regard that link as the element that brings life and vitality to the process of education.
The educational aims and objectives of the College are realized through practices that center upon the growth of the individual and the crucial role played in this growth by the relationship between student and teacher. We believe this humanistic stance to be important in a time of increasing depersonalization and specialization. These practices are translated into a set of characteristics which, taken together, mark the College as distinctive:
- We have no system of faculty rank. Each teacher is simply a teacher. In addition, we are one of the few colleges that do not use graduate assistants as teachers.
- There are no departmental syllabi, standard textbooks, or fixed teaching procedures. This leads to a joint student/teacher learning experience centered upon personal and scholarly interests and enthusiasm.
- In our philosophy and practice, we reward good teaching. We provide freedom from the “publish or perish” syndrome, which enables our teachers to devote full attention to teaching and to their scholarly interests. Free of the pressure to publish on schedule, they pace themselves and publish books that reflect complete and mature scholarship.
- We employ a teaching mode patterned after the Oxford/Cambridge system of seminars and tutorials. Most course work involves studying in this format, with heavy emphasis placed upon the student’s responsibility for personal performance and success.
- Every student is assigned a faculty don (derived from the Oxford terminology), who is the student’s academic and personal adviser. First-year students meet with their dons weekly. After the first year, donning sessions are scheduled as needed.
- We encourage students to build their own concentrations, selecting courses tailored to their interests and abilities, as well as to their career goals, such as entrance to medical or other graduate schools. Student and don work together to plan the sequence and distribution of courses in the student’s program.
- We have never used grades as a competitive device to motivate students. This helps place responsibility for students’ work upon themselves. Students do receive a continuing evaluation of their work through the tutorial process and written evaluations from their teachers.
- We provide a three-course educational program for all students. In special cases, students may take four courses and, in the senior year, may elect to do a consolidated senior thesis under the guidance of teachers in several areas of study.
The ultimate aim of this highly individualized and humane approach to education is to help students take intellectual risks, discover and enjoy their innate creativity through the discipline that leads to skill, explore issues within a framework of humanistic values, blend intellectual rigor with passionate human concern, and approach all learning with joy and urgency. We are concerned, above all, with endowing students with the efficacy and will to make a difference in their own and others’ lives.