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Here’s something to celebrate, even in these hard times.  Fairhaven College (of Western Washington University) is graduating its 40th class of students this spring, in June.  The college family and all its friends are marking this anniversary May 14th and 15th (2010) on campus.  Alums will gather from all over the continent, even from overseas, to honor this vital and intimate institution that nurtures their values and careers.   Even those who are not graduates of Fairhaven relish its accomplishments and honor its contributions to our community.

Fairhaven graduates, now scattered around the globe, have not only distinguished themselves as doctors and lawyers, scientists and scholars, artists, writers, and musicians, as social workers and activists, teachers, midwives, and farmers; they have also become exemplary neighbors and citizens, life partners and parents.  They have learned not just how to earn a good living, but how to lead a good life.

Fairhaven College, founded in 1968, was the idea of professors Paul Woodring and Charles Harwood and then Western president Jerry Flora.  It was envisioned to be an innovative community that discovered new learning strategies and would accumulate a model set of best practices.  That Fairhaven has lived up to its promise is validated in a new book, Fixing College Education; a new curriculum for the twenty-first century (University of Virginia Press) by Professor Charles Muscatine of the University of California at Berkeley.  Fairhaven is one of four colleges in America (one of them being Harvard) praised for embodying the future of higher education.  Muscatine predicts new roles for students and faculty, redefines educational breadth and depth, and calls for deeper assessment of learning and teaching.  He points out that Fairhaven has not only excelled at but pioneered the ideals he proposes and notes that Fairhaven anticipated by decades the list of “best practices” recently identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in “College Learning for a new Global Century.”  Both argue that the Fairhaven approach to education is better able than traditional models in producing good scholars and good citizens.  We see this in what Fairhaven graduates have given our community – organic and sustainable food cooperatives and farms, civil rights and artistic community organizations, responsible and collaborative civic leaders, distinguished scholars and teachers.

Over the years Fairhaven College has bravely experimented with and tested new techniques of learning.  Some of these failed; most of them succeeded.  The successes have accumulated into the exciting alternative model of education for which Fairhaven has a national reputation.  Other colleges around the nation now consult Fairhaven’s dean, faculty, and staff to determine innovative best practices in qualitative student assessment, interdisciplinary study, self-designed majors, intensive advising, inquiry-based course-work, independent and collaborative research methods.  These student-centered strategies reflect a commitment to learning from joy and passion rather than from fear and coercion, to learning by doing as well as by studying, to embracing the whole person in learning, and they exhibit the belief that a necessary education includes learning how to value things well, not just how to understand them: the college’s commitments to beauty and justice are equal to its pursuit of truth and understanding.

Another gift of Fairhaven College to our community comes in the form of some of its signature programs.  Many of us, otherwise unconnected to the University, attend Fairhaven’s weekly World Issues Forum (Wednesdays at noon) to gain a global perspective and international understanding of world issues from the invited speakers.  And many of us enjoy the service of attorney-professors and pre-law students involved in Fairhaven’s Center for Law, Diversity, and Justice that helped found and serves our Whatcom Civil Rights Project, and the Domestic Violence Court Watch program.

Along with this Center, the college sponsors cross-cultural education in its American Cultural Studies program and Adventure Learning grants.  These build skills needed for deliberative democracy – discourse across lines of difference that appreciate our shared humanity.  A large number of Fairhaven students now learn second languages and travel to study abroad; they bring their new knowledge and valuation back to our community.

All of us at the college thank all of you in the community who have joined us in trying to understand the world, improve our community, and lead meaningful lives.  And we hope for your continued support.  Celebrate Fairhaven College today, and all those who love it.  And check out our website at http://www.wwu.edu/fairahven for more about the college and news about joining our anniversary celebration.   Dr. Roger Gilman, Dean, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington University

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