As education in general, and public higher education specifically, faces increasing budgetary challenges, eyes will naturally turn to the liberal arts. Aren't these disciplines luxuries that we can do without?
No. I would submit that the humanities, the fine arts, and the social sciences are far from luxuries. They are in fact the ways of thinking and expression that best allow us to understand ourselves as human. At this moment in our culture as much as ever in the history of our world and our species, we need the analyses and insights that these disciplines provide.
The metaphor of world war suggested in my title is clearly hyperbolic; but greater understanding of and support for the liberal arts is not going to happen by itself, not with so many cultural and economic forces arrayed against it. We--liberal arts faculty, students, administrators, alumni, and friends--must strive to promote these programs and curricula because we understand their value.
Education is, of course, the best tool to promote the value of education--and that's a problem. We can, however, also talk about the "value" of a liberal education in terms of some very basic, tangible benefits: knowledge, skills, and abilities that not only make someone a "better person" (whatever that means) or a better Jeopardy contestant, but also make people more effective and ethical leaders, decision makers, parents, and citizens.
That, as I see it, is the challenge we're all facing. I hope that this space will provide us the opportunity to share our successes--alumni, students, and faculty alike--and work together to promote the programs and courses that best prepare students to understand the complex and diverse world of today ... and tomorrow.
I also hope that every faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts, every student in our quality programs, every friend of the college, and every one of our thousands of successful alumni will take the time to view the video below. It's the December 2011 commencement address by Dr. Stephen Clickard, chairperson of the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance at Bloomsburg University, and it very effectively addresses the issue of value in liberal education. Enjoy!
James S. Brown