Tag Archives: Liberal Arts

Revisiting “Rebranding the Liberal Arts”: Become a Better Citizen

I recently read an OpEd in the Washington Post about the Liberal Arts and it reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I perceived as an ‘image’ problem for the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts are such an important part of education that I couldn’t imagine someone earning their degree without having had some exposure to the Liberal Arts. You learn such valuable skills that you might not get from other areas of education.

This particular OpEd comes from a Professor at UVA who’s making the case for why someone should major in the Liberal Arts. There are a number of good reasons and I encourage you to read it, but I wanted to revisit the idea that we need to rebrand the “Liberal Arts.” Nothing’s changed in the last two weeks since I wrote about some of the issues with how people perceive the Liberal Arts based on the name (and their schemas around the word).

My initial idea of “General Intellectual Capacities” is a bit of a mouthful and probably wouldn’t fit so well on a degree — ‘I majored in general intellectual capacities.’ I wonder if it might make sense to simply reorganize the way we talk about the Liberal Arts rather than try to change the name. Although, changing the name would certainly facilitate a new conversation about it.

It seems like a herculean task to try to rebrand something as large as the “Liberal Arts.” What if we just thought about rebranding the Liberal Arts at one school? My first thought would be to take one of the colleges of the list of the best Liberal Arts colleges, but I suppose someone on that list might not want to undergo rebranding. They’re at the top of the heap and probably don’t want to shed the label that might be attracting students to their institution.

What if we take a school that has Liberal Arts at it, but that this isn’t the main focus? A school that offers degrees in some of the Liberal Arts (history, political science, philosophy, languages, etc.), but maybe has more of a focus on a different aspect of education. As I just came across a fantastic speech by someone, Georgia Tech comes to mind as a school we might use for this experiment. This university is world-renowned for its engineering program. It consistently scores in the top 5 for engineering in the US.

Georgia Tech has 6 colleges, one of which is called the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. At this college, students can earn degrees in economics, international affairs, history, and public policy. All of these are staples of the Liberal Arts. So, the question then becomes, how do we get these engineers to broaden their horizons and take classes in the Liberal Arts or even minor in the Liberal Arts?

Of course, I’m sure that there’s a “general education” requirement to a degree from Georgia Tech — as there is at every other institution — which will mean that students will have to take some Liberal Arts classes in order to fulfill certain requirements. There may be some students who are already interested in the Liberal Arts and are not dissuaded by the name. We’re not too worried about those students — it’s the ones who’ve heard “bad” things or been “brainwashed” to think that the Liberal Arts won’t help them become better engineers. To those students, explaining that these classes amplify one’s “General Intellectual Capacities” might do the trick. Unfortunately, that’s probably something more suited to ‘marketing copy’ and less suited to what we could rename the college.

If I reflect on what the professor wrote for the OpEd in WaPo, he’s stressing how the Liberal Arts can aid in helping someone to the “Good Life.” That’s where I had the idea about becoming a better citizen. I still don’t know that the College of “Becoming a Good Citizen” is a good name, but I think we’re getting closer to something that might be more appropriate.

I’m going to put this on hold and try revisiting it again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, do you have any ideas on how we can rebrand Georgia Tech’s College of the Liberal Arts? We’ve got some ideas on what might help: “General Intellectual Capacities,” “Becoming a Good Citizen,” and “the Good Life.”

Rebranding the Liberal Arts: General Intellectual Capacities

A couple of days ago, someone alerted me to an older article (2011) about the job skills that one learns from the “Liberal Arts.” After I read it, my first inclination was to share it. Having already completed two degrees in the liberal arts, I understand the importance that the liberal arts can have on teaching us how to think about the world around us. Then, I remembered that, for some people, saying “Liberal Arts” is almost like profanity.

I don’t know if it’s because of the word “Liberal” is in there and for those folks who are politically inclined (or hear that word tossed around when talking about politics) think that only “Liberal” people should go to liberal arts schools, but there certainly is a stigma out there — real or imagined. As a result, I thought I’d do some digging to find the phrase’s origin and compare it to some of the other phrases that describe higher education programs.

According to Webster, liberal arts is defined as:

college or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills

Well, that seems simple enough: intended to provide chiefly general knowledge to develop general intellectual capacities. Although, the second half of that is a bit distressing: as opposed to professional or vocational skills. Are we meant to assume that general intellectual capacities are in opposition to professional or vocational skills?

My next search took me to Wikipedia:

The liberal arts (Latinartes liberales) are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (a citizen) to know in order to take an active part in civic life. In Ancient Greece this included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service (slaves and resident aliens were by definition excluded from the duties and responsibilities of citizenship). The aim of these studies was to produce a virtuous, knowledgeable, and articulate person. Grammarrhetoric, and logic were the core liberal arts.

This explanation certainly ties in with the dictionary definition. Having general intellectual capacities would allow one to participate in public debate and to become a virtuous, knowledgeable, and articulate person.

At this point, it’s still not clear to me exactly why we’re parsing liberal arts from vocational or professional skills, so I thought I’d check out the entry for higher education on Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, this entry also separates vocational and professional schools from the liberal arts. It includes 4 different types of higher education:

1. General. This amounts to what we usually think of when we think of university. There’s a great deal of focus on the abstract and the theoretical.

2. Liberal Arts. This is what we’ve already been discussing. Although, there are two other types embedded within: performing arts or plastic/visual arts.

3. Vocational. There’s a focus on practical experience at these types of institutions of higher education, with a bit of theory. These are sometimes referred to as trade schools.

4. Professional. These institutions usually require that the person applying already have a bachelor’s degree. Examples here could be business school, law school, medical school, etc.

It’s still not entirely clear why the liberal arts should be separate from some of these other types of higher education. For instance, when we revisit the definition of developing general intellectual capacities, isn’t that what the majority of higher education does for its students? Would someone really argue that going to a vocational school, a professional school, or going to a “general” school would deprive someone of developing their general intellectual capacities? Certainly not.

Although, I do think that there are things you learn from some of the different disciplines in the “liberal arts” that you can’t get elsewhere. For instance, psychology is such an important subject for understanding the people around you. I really think that “General Psychology” should probably be a required course in every higher education institution, but with a background in psychology, I’m certainly biased — at least a little. That being said, it’s still hard to understand why people wouldn’t want to take this course. Knowing about what “makes people work” could be so advantageous to getting by in the world.

This quick bit of research led me to believe that the “Liberal Arts” may be in need of a rebranding strategy. Of course, I’m not the first one to suggest this. I found an article in the Journal of College Admission from 2009: “The Liberal Arts Rebranded.” In the article, there were references to a number of examples of strategies used for rebranding. For instance, there’s the example of the “Liberal Arts and Sciences,” or the “Practical Liberal Arts and Sciences.” There’s also examples like “Liberal Education” or “Liberal Learning.”

I haven’t seen any data, but I don’t think that any of these would really sway too many people from their previously held bias against the liberal arts, but I don’t know that anything would for some folks.

If I’m brainswarming ideas for a way to rebrand liberal arts, I would think that the name would need to changed completely. Both ‘liberal’ and ‘arts’ are words that, to some, are too “soft.” If it’s not math and science-y, then they want no part of it. So, I would try to find a way to incorporate that definition we first looked at: general intellectual capacities. Those three words are quite a mouthful, so it wouldn’t work just like that. There’d have to be something that succinctly conveys that message.