Dean`s Message: Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Dean Nira Herrmann, PhD

Dean Nira Herrmann, PhD

I was browsing through the archives of The New York Times when a headline caught my eye: “College Heads Defend Study of Liberal Arts.” The article included the statement that, “Comments from leading college presidents obtained in a survey conducted by The New York Times reveal the extent to which liberal arts education is being maintained and encouraged in spite of all obstacles.” The date was January 31, 1943 and the pressures were “the demands of war and the urgent need for technical training of men and women.”

More recently, on February 24, 2009, The New York Times ran a headline that reads, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth” and stated, “in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency…. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care.”

In the face of decades of such attitudes, the liberal arts continue to be emphasized and promoted at colleges and universities, including Pace—why? In large part because we see the dichotomy between technical and professional knowledge on the one hand and the liberal arts, including the humanities, on the other, as false. Many Dyson College liberal arts majors lead directly to careers upon graduation. Others provide a foundation of excellence for continued education at the graduate and professional school level, again a strong path to a career. Most importantly, the liberal arts grounding we give to all students helps fulfill Pace’s goal of creating thinking professionals who can communicate their ideas clearly, understand the implications of their actions in a wider social, global and ethical context, and who have personally experienced the importance of engaging in their community to help others.

As the American Associate of Colleges and Universities president recently noted, we see, “liberal education, no longer as an option for the fortunate few, but rather as the most practical and powerful preparation for ‘success’ in all its real-world meanings: economic, societal, civic, and personal.” (Schneider 2008, in the Introduction to High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities)