Chodosh and Oxtoby Promote Liberal Arts Education in India

President David Oxtoby of Pomona College and President Hiram Chodosh of Claremont McKenna College, along with other administrators and faculty members from the two colleges, traveled to Bangalore, India, where they attended a conference that was held Jan. 7 to Jan. 9 to promote liberal arts education in the country.

Co-sponsored by Yale University, Pomona, CMC, the C.V. Raman Research Institute, and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, the conference, titled "The Future of Liberal Arts in India," invited delegates from American colleges and universities to discuss how liberal arts education could have a positive effect on the Indian education system and society at large.

The conference was first put together by Bryan Penprase, an astronomy professor at Pomona, in collaboration with Yale, where Penprase spent the 2012-2013 school year as the American Council on Education Fellow. Penprase said that his interest in fostering the liberal arts education in Asia grew out of his time at Yale, where he was studying internationalization and higher education.

"We were investigating this wave of interest in liberal arts around Asia, and India in particular seemed like a very interesting place right now," he said. "It’s at a historic moment where there’s a convergence of a recognized need for new models of higher education and an emerging philanthropic sector in the form of recently wealthy IT millionaires."

India is also seeing "an openness to a blend of western style of liberal arts education and a return to a focus on India and its culture and its problems," he added. 

During the three-day conference this January, several representatives of the Claremont Colleges led sessions about their approaches to the liberal arts education. Oxtoby presented on “Pomona College and its Liberal Arts Mission,” Chodosh gave a talk called “Global Liberal Arts Initiative,” and Penprase gave a talk called “Research and Institutional Culture at Liberal Arts colleges: What Does it Mean to be a Teacher/Scholar at a Liberal Arts College?”

“We have a lot to share with these new universities [in India],” Penprase said. “The new institutions have the opportunity to do things better and differently but they also need to look at old institutions to see some of the structures that enable academic freedom and some of the governance issues, how students can bring input to administration and how faculty can help define the curriculum … So I think both sides have something to learn from each other.”

Oxtoby said that he hoped to both promote Pomona in India and help encourage the growth of liberal arts in India with his visit to Bangalore.

“For all of us, there’s interest broadly in the whole world, of course,” Oxtoby said. “I think over the last 10 years, our initial focus has been especially on east Asia and southeast Asia in terms of traveling and recruiting students … We’ve actually been recruiting in India in admissions for last couple of years. We see it as a new area where we want to become more visible.”

Sameer Rana PO ’17 volunteered for Take Pomona Home over winter break in his hometown in Nepal, where he visited five schools to talk about Pomona and the advantages of receiving a liberal arts education. Rana believes that Pomona should continue its efforts, such as this conference and the Take Pomona Home program, to attract students in south Asia.

“A lot of international students … are qualified but they just don’t know about liberal arts colleges like Pomona,” Rana said. “I think it’s important to differentiate [liberal arts] from research universities. A lot of international students have wrong perceptions of liberal arts colleges, that they’re inferior to [research universities], so I think spreading the message and teaching people is important.”

Oxtoby and Penprase agreed that the response to the conference was positive from both the Indian and American attendees, and that they believe there will be more conferences in the future, possibly even next year.

“I was really happy it came together so well, and I hope that it was the first step in increasing the level of engagement and awareness of India here in Pomona’s campus,” Penprase said. “I’m sure as we start to get more Indian students and better connections in India that it will lead to a lot of interesting opportunities for students for study abroad, internships, research in India. Ultimately, the final goal is to improve education in Pomona, and I think it has that potential.”