By Mike McAlpin
Photography by Gorbachev Lingad '10
A hallmark of academic excellence for more than 50 years, the Integral Program was accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) in January.
"The academy commends the College's board and administration for maintaining such a unique and nationally important program," says Jeff Martineau, AALE's director of higher education.
The Program is rooted in the Great Books of the Western tradition. Throughout their four-year liberal arts curriculum, students engage in "great conversations" about classic texts beginning with the Iliad and continuing into the 20th century. The Program also has tutorials in math, language and music, along with laboratories in science-related fields.
Only a handful of undergraduate Great Books B.A. programs exist in the United States: Saint Mary's and Thomas Aquinas College in California and St. John's College in Annapolis and Santa Fe, whose Great Books curriculum started in 1937.
Ted Tsukahara, the Program's director, says accreditation raises Saint Mary's position among Great Books institutions.
"To be on the same list, through their eyes, with St. John's, helps us, because students are looking at St. John's. If you go looking for Great Books programs on the web, St. John's College always comes up," Tsukahara says. "So if we can pop up on the same list as St. John's, we'll open up the pool of students that we can appeal to. We benefit as a program if they come here, and the College benefits."
Kate Cooper, a 22-year-old Integral senior, says accreditation is also a validation for the Program's students.
"A big part of it for the students is an extra little asterisk that we get to put on our resume," she says. "It's a fully acknowledged, full-fledged academic accreditation association, so that does carry an extra sense of validity."
The criteria for accreditation by AALE include a demonstrated commitment to liberal education, rigorous core studies in the arts, sciences and humanities and stringent educational, financial and administrative standards.
The academy noted that the Program has produced "many exceptional graduates over the years that have carried the aspirations of the College and Program with them and had great impact beyond Saint Mary's walls."
With most colleges offering specialized curricula, national recognition of the Program's classic liberal arts approach is high praise, Tsukahara says.
"It is countercultural in that sense, because we don't hold out as an end that you're going to get a good job or make lots of money," he says. "But we give them the confidence that if the world changes, they're not going to be frightened by change. Specialized education can become obsolete pretty quickly."