College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Liberal Arts Matters

Thoughts for the Class of 2014

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, "Going Global," was written by Dr. Jay Howard, Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Professor of Sociology.

Going Global

As you are well aware, the world around you keeps changing. It also keeps getting smaller in the sense of being interconnected with people around the globe. You can be Facebook friends with people in other countries as well as the person in the dorm room across the hall. You can text friends around the country as well as instant message people around the world. So what's the big deal about the world getting smaller? Well, not only does global interconnectedness have implications for your social contacts, it will characterize the world you enter upon graduation from Butler University.

In a publication called College Learning for the New Global Century (2007), The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) argues that you will enter a world where broad-based knowledge is the key. This knowledge must prepare you to innovate and adapt to ever changing circumstances. You must also be prepared to act as a citizen, not only of your country but also of the diverse global community. This world will continue to change. Most Americans change jobs ten times during the first two decades following college. Your experience will be quite different from that of your parents or grandparents who may have spent decades working for the same company.

So what will Butler University do to help prepare you for this complex, ever-changing, diverse global community you will enter? At Butler we believe the best way to prepare you to be citizens of this world is through a university education that is infused with the Liberal Arts. In higher education, Liberal Arts does not refer to where one falls along the political spectrum from right to left. Instead the Liberal Arts are a set of core disciplines that develop key skills required to be an active, engaged citizen. These disciplines include the humanities (e.g., English, Philosophy, etc.), the social sciences (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, etc.), and the natural sciences (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.). Regardless of your major area of study, a curriculum that is infused with the Liberal Arts will help you develop the skills that are needed for meaningful participation in this increasingly interconnected world in which we find ourselves.

A Liberal Arts education will stretch your thinking abilities. Often in high school, the path to an "A" grade is to memorize what the teacher or the book says and then repeat it back in exams or other assignments. Sometimes you will find a university education to be frustrating and challenging because memorizing all the right facts is not enough! Very often you must weigh the evidence and grapple with competing explanations and perspectives. This doesn't mean that all perspectives are equal or that one person's "opinion" is as good as anyone else's opinion. Critical thinking is not about opinions. It is about weighing evidence and marking arguments. It is about learning that one can gain insights from multiple and competing perspectives. It also means you recognize that sometimes there is not a single correct answer to be memorized. This is often a difficult transition for students who have been very successful in high school by memorizing the "right" answers. But it is the key to becoming an educated individual who can contribute as an engaged citizen in a complex world. You will find there are few easy issues with a single right answer. There will be better and worse answers to the challenges you face. As a citizen of the planet, your task will be to sort out the better from the worse and make informed, ethical decisions with the interests of others as well as yourself in mind.

A university education infused with the Liberal Arts will also teach you how to learn. As the rate of expansion of new knowledge continues to accelerate, you must leave Butler with well refined skills in how to learn and solve problems. Your faculty members will push you and challenge you to develop this ability using the myriad of resources available to you. It will not always be a comfortable process. If it were always comfortable, your faculty would be letting you down. Just as with athletic and fitness training, without some pain from exercising and strengthening your body there is no gain. Academically and intellectually the same is true. Your faculty should be pushing you to think and learn in ways you may not have thought possible. This education will cause you to identify and analyze underlying principles, assumptions, and issues as you work with your faculty and classmates to broaden your understanding of the world.

Rather than being narrowly focused on training for a specific job, a Liberal Arts infused education will broaden your knowledge base while giving you the skills necessary for engaging in a complex world. Your linear thinking and analytical skills will be developed, but you will also be pushed to learn to think creatively. You will be challenged to pull together disparate ideas and information in new ways. And you will do so in a context that seeks to increase your appreciation for and ability to work with diverse groups and individuals.

Again, it won't always be an easy or comfortable process. But the best things in life only come through effort and perseverance. It is a journey filled with excitement that takes place in a community of classmates and faculty who are with you each step of the way. With your investment of energy and effort, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. All of us at Butler University welcome you to the journey that is a Liberal Arts infused education!

Jay Howard, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Butler University
August 2010