Professors at UMass Amherst Launching Seminar and Lecture Series on Freedom and Education

AMHERST, Mass. - A spring semester seminar and lecture series on freedom and education at the University of Massachusetts will feature an inaugural talk by UMass President William M. Bulger titled, "Freedom and Education in the Classical World," Feb. 10 from 7-8:30 p.m. in Room 163 of the Campus Center. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

Bulger''s lecture is part of the John Templeton Seminar and Lectures on Freedom and Education conducted by Professors Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, political science, and Robert M. Costrell, economics. The effort is funded by a $39,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation with support from the departments of political science and economics and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "A seminar on freedom and higher education is most appropriate in Massachusetts, a commonwealth widely known for its role in advancing both," says Cora B. Marrett, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost. "The University is gratified to have been chosen by the Templeton Foundation as the site for this important activity."

The honors seminar will cover a wide range of materials from Plato, to Plutarch, Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and Horace Mann, right up to the contemporary period, according to Costrell and Sedgwick. There will also be discussions, analyses, and research into the current debates over charter schools, home schooling, school choice, and competency testing. As part of their coursework, students will conduct research into results from the first rounds of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests now required in the state''s public schools.

Bulger''s lecture will be the first of four during the semester. On Feb. 29, James Peyser, chairman of the state Board of Education, and Stephen Gorrie, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, will debate the issues of school choice and charter schools. On March 30, Abigail Thernstrom, a member of the state Board of Education, and Ronald Ferguson, economist and professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, will discuss the test-score gap between black and white students. The final talk on May 4 will feature author and educational historian Diane Ravitch discussing "Education and Democracy." All of the lectures are free and open to the public.

Costrell and Sedgwick say the seminar and lecture series are designed to answer basic questions about the meaning of freedom, a core value in our society. The focus on contemporary issues in education brings the theoretical discussion face-to-face with its implications for families, children, and society today, they say.