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Why the Liberal Arts?

Why the Liberal Arts?

In the March/April 2016 issue of Trusteeship, we asked Mary Dana Hinton, president of the College of Saint Benedict and an advocate for the liberal arts, about their role in 21st-century education. A portion of her response is excerpted below, you can read the full article here.

How has the role of liberal-arts colleges changed?

The liberal arts are as relevant now as they have ever been.[...] But our vitality as institutions is hard-earned, and we face significant challenges to our ability to thrive. The current conversation about the purpose of higher education suggests that liberalarts colleges, and the study of the liberal arts more generally, are out of step with the times and the future. A liberal-arts education is cast as a frightful investment for families who worry about the economic return on education, a fear amplified by the idea that workforce preparation and a clear and direct link between academic study and employment ought to be the overriding objectives of a college experience. Those arguments take their toll, driving our students to consider an increasingly narrow set of academic majors and experiences that seem to promise economic gold at the end of the collegiate rainbow.

Are liberal-arts institutions sustainable in this age of technology and STEM fields?

Never has it been more important that liberal-arts colleges take back and more boldly assert their own value narrative. Our commitment as liberal-arts institutions extends to the generative uses of knowledge for practical, ethical, and even moral purposes—each more important than ever in our increasingly complicated world. The liberal arts, broadly construed to include all of the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, and the fine arts, educate toward liberation, toward the ability to excel within any context, toward the ability to expand one’s own world. We educate for transformation, leadership, and community, not simply or exclusively for the development of instrumental skills.

This summer, the College of St. Benedict and Saint John’s University will host Liberal Arts Illuminated: Pathways, Possibilities, Partnerships, a three-day conference (July 11–13) on the importance of keeping this tradition alive.
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