Note from Peter Wood to NAS Members

National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood praises Mount Liberty College.

Dear [NAS members],

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) upholds the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship. That’s our official mission and we have fought vigorously for these standards through advocacy on behalf of aggrieved scholars, in-depth reports on important issues, and public advocacy. We have not until now, however, suggested a curriculum.
  We do so with a certain bashfulness. What scholar has not, from time to time, reflected on how his college’s curriculum could be improved by adding some courses here, and subtracting some there? Or better yet, replacing the whole patchwork of requirements, electives, majors, minors, and independent studies with a pristine whole that teaches the essentials? 
  But that daydream always gives way to the reality that no two scholars are likely to agree on what “the essentials” are. And plenty will say there are no essentials at all, but merely a universe of rich choices, and the best curriculum would be one that leaves every option open.
  The NAS has never been in the camp that upholds the principle that every option is as good as the next. A decent liberal arts education, in our view, requires some hard choices about what is most worth the limited time and attention of students. But still, we have backed away from presenting a NAS map to a perfect education. We still don’t have that encompassing vision. But we have decided to drop a small bag of gold coins on the table: not the “perfect education,” but a reasoned case for a better liberal education than is typically on offer these days. 
  Why now? Because the remnant of colleges dedicated to traditional standards has shrunk alarmingly. The vast majority of our colleges have wandered so far from a traditional Western liberal arts education that they no longer remember what it should be. Now, if we cast our ideals in curricular form, it could be of real use.
  A generation of new colleges are in the midst of being founded, dedicated to restoring the traditional curriculum. The University of Austin has opened in Texas, Mount Liberty College in Utah, and accreditation reform may make it possible for a hundred new colleges to bloom in the next few years. This new generation may find it useful to read a sketch of what college education could consist of, as they make their first organizational and staffing decisions.
  In that light, the National Association of Scholars has just published Curriculum of Liberty by David Randall, NAS’s Director of Research. Curriculum of Liberty sketches an outline of what colleges should teach—in loose form, to accommodate the liberty which should be the breath of American colleges. This isn’t the NAS vision—it’s one NAS vision, and meant to spark others.
  I’ve framed this as an offering to the new generation of colleges that are on the horizon, but it is of course also available for any college that is moved to reconsider how it might reorganize its undergraduate curriculum.
  The NAS also offers this model curriculum in the hope of inspiring other curricular visions. To that end we will host a new column on Minding the Campus, titled Curricular Visions. Here we will welcome essays by NAS members, and interested outsiders, on what a proper curriculum should be. We want Curriculum of Liberty to be the spark for an extended conversation on what colleges should teach.
  America is at a rare crossroads in 2024. There is a new and growing movement of education reform, which must build an entire education infrastructure ex nihilo, to rival and then (in a good world) replace our corrupted academic establishment. Our castles in the air have a real purpose—to inform the decisions of governors and university presidents, of senators and provosts, of representatives and deans. And, indeed, to bring the great American public into a new conversation about how to renovate American higher education.
  I hope you will take part in this conversation. We welcome good essays that articulate Curricular Visions—so please send yours to Jared Gould (, the editor of Minding the Campus.
  The NAS’s vision is American, so it contains multitudes. We’d be glad to have your vision be part of our joyful throng.
Peter Wood
National Association of Scholars