College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Liberal Arts Matters

Thoughts for the Class of 2011

Each year a faculty member is asked to write a statement for the incoming class about the value of a liberal arts education here at Butler. This year's essay, "Liberal Arts Education : Magical Arithmetic," was written by Dr. Judith Morrel, Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Associate Professor, Mathematics & Actuarial Science.

Liberal Arts Education: Magical Arithmetic

You may have heard the old adage, "The whole is more than the sum of its parts." This, of course, is mathematical nonsense, but it contains a magical nugget of truth - a nugget that is applicable in many non-mathematical contexts, including higher education. For example, in team sports, it is sometimes the case that a team composed of moderately talented, well-prepared and well-coached athletes can defeat a team with a couple of superstars - in some way, the collective effort of the less individually talented team overcomes the collective effort of the star-studded team. When this happens, the team members, as well as the crowd watching, experience the magic embodied in that adage. I hope you were watching last year when the Butler Bulldogs men's basketball team defeated several teams, both in the Kickoff NIT tournament and in the NCAA tournament, that some would say were more talented. Perhaps you yourself have experienced such a phenomenon whether as a participant or a spectator; maybe you even have an old team shirt that says, "T.E.A.M. - Together Everyone Achieves More." When the team effort transcends the expected, it can be magical for all involved.

The magic can happen in musical performance as well. Although famous and revered composers have written wonderful music for solo performance, many of their most exquisite compositions, their most enduring works, are written for a symphonic orchestra, a full band or an entire chorus. If you have had the opportunity to play or sing with an ensemble, you may have experienced times when the effect the music is having on the audience, as well as on the players or singers themselves, is transcendent, magical, simply because the group effort is greater than the sum of the individual efforts. Don't get me wrong - I do not mean to say this magic happens without proper training and rehearsal. It takes a lot of effort on the part of each individual as well as on the part of the composer, the conductor, and the other performers. But somehow the result is better than it should be by conventional arithmetic.

You, now students in the Butler University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, are about to enter into a four-year magical experience, because a quality liberal arts education is , like a team or musical group, something else that is greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, you will develop expertise in your chosen area of study - your major - whether it is in the sciences, the social sciences or the humanities. You may do quite well (and I hope you do), make the Dean's List, receive individual honors from your department, graduate magna cum laude. But here at Butler University, we believe that your major, while invaluable and certainly necessary, is only a part of the magic of a liberal arts education. There are other singers, other team members, and other players who are essential to achieving the greater whole, to providing the transforming experience that a quality liberal arts education offers.

Who or what are these other players, these other singers? There are many: the core curriculum, elective courses, opportunities for study abroad or volunteering, internships; the list goes on. Like parts played by the other members of the orchestra or by the other players on the team, these components are all facets of a superior liberal arts education. In order to get the most out of your Butler experience, you, like a good teammate or a good ensemble performer, have to do your part - you have to work hard, developing your academic, social and interpersonal skills. But while you're learning, you won't be playing a solo, you won't be going it alone. The required courses in written and verbal communication skills, in analytical and scientific reasoning, in foreign languages, fine arts, humanities and social sciences, the various elective courses, as well as the experiential learning opportunities which abound at Butler, all contribute to that greater whole, to that magic, of a liberal arts education; they're like the teammates and players who help elevate all of your education to a higher level. You may not see, at first, how these courses and other educational experiences are integrated into a the whole, just like you may not understand what a coach or conductor is doing to integrate each of the players or performers, or how that integration will contribute to the group effort. That is where the expertise and guidance of the liberal arts and sciences faculty come in; the liberal arts and sciences curriculum, both in the core and in the your major, has been carefully designed to provide a chance for academic growth and integration, not merely in your major, but also in your broader education as well.

During those magical moments in team sports or ensemble performance, not only are the players enriched, but so is the audience, those people watching or listening. Who plays the role of the audience when you experience the magic of a liberal arts education? Besides you, who benefits from this transformational time in your life? It may sound over-the-top, perhaps even corny, but truly the audience, the other beneficiary (besides you) of your liberal education, is your community-your family, your friends, your world. Yes, that's right, any part of the world that you encounter now or later benefits from the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" nature of your liberal arts education at Butler University. Why? Because, in the words of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Core Values statement adopted by the faculty (for the full text, see ), the liberal arts teach you to "act wisely and well in the world," and foster in you "compassion and respect for those whose lives we share."

Certainly developing expertise in your major and landing that perfect job or graduate/ professional school placement both show demonstrate that you are playing your part extremely well. If that is all there were is to a quality liberal arts education, then you would be the lesser for it, you would miss out on the opportunity to experience the magical arithmetic of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. You have a chance to catch the magic that is a liberal arts education - be sure that you do.

Judith Harper Morrel
Associate Dean, Liberal Arts and Sciences
Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Actuarial Science
Butler University
July 2007