Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century
Education is a process in which we make and share discoveries--whether the
thing being discovered is a new poem, or scuplture, or conceptual
framework, or empirical association. Discovery and dissemination go hand in hand, and they
co-occur in all contexts where learning might take place: the lab, the
studio, the seminar room, the performance space, the internship placement, the
clinic, the lecture hall—and beyond.
A liberal arts education is
both a private and a public good. Individuals receiving a liberal arts
education benefit by developing transferable skills that have economic value: Surveys indicate that employers highly value
the skills fostered by a liberal arts education. But the value goes beyond the individual
student’s personal development and career prospects. Citizens with a liberal arts education are
better prepared to serve—to have a meaningful impact on the world around
them. They understand how to investigate an issue, how to see others’
points of views, how knowledge develops in a particular cultural and historical
context, how to integrate information from diverse sources, how to communicate
articulately, and how to develop and apply solutions effectively in a wide
variety of situations. Prepared to be citizens of the world, they are
well-informed, flexible, and open to the new perspectives and situations they
are likely to encounter in an increasingly interconnected world.
Providing a liberal arts
education in the twenty-first century must honor the traditional core of the
liberal arts while incorporating experiences that ensure students are prepared
for the world in which they will live.
Educators are privileged to contribute to the public good in this way. As a leader and administrator, I help faculty,
staff and students create, share,
integrate, and apply knowledge—for their own personal and professional
growth and for the good of the world around them.
As we face the major
challenges of this century, the liberal arts are more important than ever. Solutions to problems like environmental
sustainability; rapid social and cultural shifts leading to political
instability and conflict; the growing risk of pandemics; the widening gap
between rich and poor—locally and globally; and moral and ethical dilemmas that
arise with advances in technology, especially in health care, will all require
the kind of thinking fostered by liberal arts education.