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Arts on view
Now more than ever
Now, more than ever, a rigorous grounding in the liberal arts is the best possible education. We cannot teach students what they will need to know in a future of rapid change and unexpected events. We can only teach them to frame and answer profound questions in uncharted territory, to develop the judgment and intellectual rigor and honesty to interrogate their work and that of others, and to take responsibility for their communities and their place in the world.
I often ask students about their current projects and assignments. Recently weve discussed a comparison of the historic preservation of two Saratoga landmarks, Canfield Casino and the former Van Raalte mill; an analysis of the economic impact of locating new prisons in rural communities; and a human-subject study of the effects of particular diet and exercise regimens on resting metabolism, fat-to-muscle ratio, and cholesterol levels. Each of these exemplifies work that is an ideal vehicle for developing students critical capacities and preparing them to ask, and answer, tomorrows questions.
I serve on the board of directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which has issued a report called Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College (www.greaterexpectations.org). The report has spawned the Presidents Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning and community roundtables around the country about the intellectual significance of liberal learning and its role as preparation for understanding, for citizenship, and for work.
At the heart of the AAC&U report is the goal of creating intentional learners who will be empowered through the mastery of intellectual and practical skills. Those skills are remarkably familiar to Skidmore curriculum designersand to our satisfied graduates. The report calls for graduates who can:
- effectively communicate orally, visually, in writing, and in
a second language
- understand and employ quantitative and qualitative analysis
to solve problems
- interpret and evaluate information from a variety of sources
- understand and work within complex systems, and with
- demonstrate intellectual agility and the ability to manage
- transform information into knowledge and knowledge into
judgment and action
We want students to understand society and the natural world, the expression of the human imagination, cultural variation and intersection, the roots and practice of democracy, and their responsibility for their personal ethics and actions and their civic values. The intrinsic and pragmatic rewards of this kind of education are lasting, and they continue to reveal themselves over a lifetime, as our graduates often tell me.
Some may say, All well and good, but what can you do with a liberal arts degree? The career possibilities are limitless. Drawing just from the Class of 2002, which faced one of the toughest employment markets in years, I know of new alumni who are:
- launching a regional theater company focused on presenting
strong new work (B.S. in theater)
- developing a student leadership and e-training network and
researching ethical issues in business and technology (B.A.
- hiring and training scores of federal airport-security officers
across the country (B.A. in sociology)
- coordinating community outreach activities for a watershed
council (B.A. in psychology)
- teaching English at a foreign-language institute in Rome,
Italy (B.A. in sociology)
- conducting research on clinical and educational issues in
geriatrics (B.A. in biology-psychology)
And of course these enterprising grads have classmates who are in medical school, teaching, law school, and graduate school in geoscience, math, urban studies, creative writing, and a host of other fields. What can you do with a liberal arts education? Anything and everything.