Panel stresses morals in class

CARY — Baylor University president Ken Starr called for a return to a “classical view” of education in a panel discussion Thursday with UNC-system Board of Governors chairman Peter Hans.

“Religion, morality and knowledge — if it was good enough for George Washington, it is good enough for me,” said Starr, who is also the former U.S. Solicitor General.

The event, held by the conservative-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, drew an audience of 50 current and former educators, parents and lawmakers.

Jane Shaw, president of the Pope Center, said the center sponsored the event to encourage conversation about issues in higher education.

Starr said a number of higher education leaders have claimed that American universities have forgotten their fundamental mission — which he said was to graduate students who have a sense of purpose.

Baylor, a private Texas university with a long-standing Baptist tradition, requires students to take classes in religion and U.S. Constitution studies.

“The change will need to be generated from within and without the universities, including trustees, alumni and parents,” he said.

Starr outlined his three steps to build a successful institution of higher education — commit to a truly rigorous curriculum, seek to teach wisdom and encourage practical engagement in the marketplace.

Hans echoed Starr’s concern for the lack of moral education.

“Amen! Maybe you could stay around North Carolina for a little while longer,” Hans said in response to Starr. “We’ve got a campus or two that would benefit from your wisdom.”

Hans said he supports the idea of a more holistic, faith-based approach to higher education — but said there is only so much the UNC system can do.

Hans said despite continued room for improvement, the UNC system has made good progress in recent years — like raising admissions standards, expanding online and correspondence classes and rethinking traditional classroom experiences.

“We’re taking a fresh look at our general education requirements to make certain we are focusing on the key competencies that we think college students should possess,” he said.

Hans also said the system has striven to lower the costs of obtaining a college degree, despite consistent budget cuts in the last few years. But Shaw said accessibility and the cost of college is still a weakness of the education system, nationally and in North Carolina.

Starr called on universities to build a community with a culture of freedom.

“The foundation is freedom — you need freedom of the mind and a community that promotes creativity and innovation,” he said.

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