Education is a process in which we make and share discoveries–whether the thing being discovered is a new poem, or sculpture, 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.