College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Liberal Arts Matters

Core Values for the College of Liberal Arts and Science

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I

The liberal arts' basic and historic purpose is at once to teach us to think for ourselves, to act wisely and well in the world, to undertake occupations useful to ourselves and others. Liberal arts education seeks ultimately to open us to the human condition in its pains and joys, thereby to nurture our personal integrity, and to foster in us compassion and respect for those whose lives we share in our own communities and around the world.

Liberal arts education rests on a paradox: thinking soundly oneself means first listening carefully to the thoughts of others. The liberal arts urge us to cultivate ourselves through the consciousness of others; careful attention to their ideas and actions help us refine our own.

Liberal arts education is pluralistic. It is composed of many voices, each appropriate to time and place, some discordant, none absolute. It seeks to develop in us wit to judge which skills are appropriate at which times. Liberal arts education is restless. It takes nothing for granted. Its characteristic activity is not uncritical assent but critical judgment. It scrutinizes sacred truths of every sort.

The liberal arts develop not only critical but also creative skills, not only rational analysis but also creative expression. They seek to develop and realize the fullness of the human personality. Their exercise aims as well at preparing students to educate themselves long after they have left formal school. Liberal arts education is meant to train its students for public responsibility, not just private good.

A liberal arts education is as much about the journey as the destination. It takes as much delight in the minute by minute quirks of learning as in the fulfillment of distant goals. It balances the will to know with empathy and wonderment.

II

The Latin word ars means at once skill, knowledge, and practice. A liberal arts education begins with the skills of language and thought.

It teaches us to read well; to listen well; to write clear, concise prose; to speak privately in conversation, publicly in discussion, and formally in speeches; to judge one's audience and regard one's own words through the eyes and ears of others; to learn proper ways of integrating and citing the words and thoughts of others into one's own work; to do these things reasonably well in languages and worldviews other than our own.

It teaches us to set out a case or hypothesis or argument; to evaluate the rigor of others' arguments; to find and judge information in libraries, on the internet, and in other repositories. It teaches us modes of ascertaining truth and falsehood; resourcefulness appropriate to moral and aesthetic judgment; methods of logical, experimental, scientific, mathematical, and statistical reasoning.

These skills allow us to tackle and solve increasingly difficult and challenging problems, appreciate sources of bias and means of overcoming them, and entertain arguments from dissonant points of view. They develop in us a sense of subtlety, depth, and complexity.

III

A liberal arts education sees the cultivation of these skills not only as an end in itself but also as a preparation for the pursuit of knowledge and the other purposes of human life. The Chinese Book of Changes well captures a fundamental quality of liberal arts education when it intimates that knowledge and practice cannot be mastered until they have been regarded from different perspectives.

As students of the liberal arts, we cultivate as fully as possible the legacy of human thought, imagination, creativity, and research; observe nature; confront and evaluate important theories that shape our understanding of the world and how to care for it; figure out how societies, our own and those of others, work and can be improved; weigh the costs and benefits of modern human life to the individual and the planet; seek to grasp and reduce the sources of human hatred and conflict; aim to understand and strengthen what inspires human cooperation; explore the workings of the human mind and body; unknot claims of teachers, politicians, advertisers, scientists, preachers, columnists and your roommate; ponder history from the earliest epochs to the unfolding present; investigate the mechanisms of the cosmos, from the atom to the stars; delve into the past experiences of our own and other societies, as well as the current news; make ourselves at home in other cultures; make those from other cultures at home among ourselves; see the interplay between our beliefs about the natural world and our beliefs about religion, politics, and culture; search out purpose, ponder the meaning of life, scrutinize the human heart, weigh conscience; discover the sweep of living systems, from microbes to biomes; learn to account for ourselves in a moral world that is neither black nor white; engage in a careful search for truth; know the ways of money and the nature of work; wrestle with ideas about God; fathom the relations between technology and human life; raise children, our own and those of others; consider the well-being of future generations; appreciate the beauty and uses of mathematics; forge agreements with loved ones, friends and enemies; engage ourselves in the principles, purposes and practice of public life.

As students of the liberal arts, we do these things as part of a community with venerable roots; a community still evolving in space and time; a community of thought, imagination, value, labor, and action.

Adopted by the LAS Faculty, 21 March 2007