The Robert L. Gaudino Memorial Fund seeks renewed and contemporary expression of Professor Gaudino’s educational vision. By challenging the notion that public, intellectual engagement should or could be divorced from the private realm of students’ personal background and experience, Gaudino required his students to confront uncomfortable differences and learn through contrasts – for example, between their assumptions and their conclusions, between themselves and others of different social, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, between modern and ancient thought, between the values of public institutions and those of the private home, and even between the different liberal arts disciplines themselves. With insight, discipline, and humor, Gaudino facilitated student confrontation of these contrasts both inside the classroom and outside Williams, in places as diverse as Iowa, India, Appalachia, and Detroit.
Gaudino put the student at the center of this experience by requiring reflection on how personal opinions, judgments, and sensibilities derive not only from the curriculum, but from sources outside the curriculum. The teacher’s understanding of the subject matter serves only as a catalyst. Students must transform themselves by taking an active role in an open community of learners, assuming the risk inherent in a serious search for truth. Often an uncomfortable experience, confronting difference in rigorous dialogue can induce profound and long-lasting intellectual and affective change.
The mission of the Fund complements the primary objectives of the College’s educational mission: promoting active learning, combating fragmentation of knowledge, and assembling an open community of learning characterized by integrity, mutual respect, and rigorous intellectual endeavor. The Fund’s distinctive contribution to Williams resides in the insistence that experiences on as well as off campus, on curricular as well as extracurricular levels, be continually transformed into occasions for growth in which the intellectual becomes personal.
The Fund’s role, therefore, like that of Gaudino during his two decades of teaching, is that of gadfly in the Socratic tradition at an extraordinarily successful institution, asking questions that help illuminate unexamined assumptions, prompted by a conviction that Williams is a place of unlimited possibilities for which no standard of excellence is too high. In keeping with this role, and with Gaudino’s belief that genuine learning is often an uncomfortable process of confronting familiar expectations with immediate experiences, the work of the Fund, through the Board of Trustees and the Gaudino Scholars, is to:
- Foster academic and pedagogical innovations within the curriculum, particularly those which require greater responsibility on the part of the students and in which there is, to use a description of Gaudino’s, a “mixing of two purposes: the defining of subject matter and the penetration of premises and observations or participants;”
- Encourage dialogue and critical reflection on curricular and extracurricular topics;
- Support learning through the experience of confrontation with the self and others in and out of the classroom, on and off campus, promoting affective with intellectual change; and
- Stimulate debate about the liberal arts enterprise and the Williams experience itself, from curricular reform to the meaning of citizenship.