Liberal arts: the original research

The whole concept and image of higher education in the United States has evolved and changed ever since the introduction of Harvard University in 1636.

It has gone from being simply a place where the wealthy white men attend for educational and religious value to being an institution where it is nearly essential to have a degree in contemporary society.

The concept of liberal arts was introduced in the 1700s to universities around the country, although individual ideas of what liberal arts really is varied.

In most recent years, many arguments have come to surface, questioning whether an individual institution or the state should supply funding for liberal arts departments. The arguments imply that funding would be better suited going toward research.

The concept of research is questionable, though. What exactly makes a specific area of study researchable?

Governing boards at universities would say that engineering and information technologies should receive more funding.

But according to a June 2012 article in the Washington Post, researchers for Duke University and Harvard University have found that only 37 percent of CEOs and heads of production at 502 technology companies hold an engineering or computer technology degree.

The same article also quotes Tom Freidman, a columnist for the New York Times, explaining the importance of Liberal Arts.

“It’s not that I don’t think math and science are important. They still are,” he said. “But more than ever our secret sauce comes from our ability to integrate art, science, music, and literature with the hard sciences. That’s what produces an iPod revolution or a Google.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and fellow critics have recently challenged the necessity of liberal arts and claim that there are no benefits for society from a liberal arts degree.

He has called for steering away his state’s funding from the liberal arts. It should also be noted that his daughter received a liberal arts degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary.

President Thomas Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary 250 years ago with a liberal arts degree.

This is the man that wrote the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33. The words that he transpired, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” still ring through the hearts of any true American patriot.

If it were not for two of his professors that educated him on the ideals and revelations of the Enlightenment and the new thinking of the 18th century, Jefferson may have never developed that document. This is what a liberal arts major can do.

Research should be broadly conceived. It takes many forms.

Research can be carried out in engineering and science but also through anthropology and history.

There are nearly 200 institutions of higher education that are classified as a research institution, but most do not distinguish the specific kind of research that is done.

If an institution wants to include research into its funding and curriculum, it must be open to the many different research possibilities that are offered.

A university should be one that accepts the many different forms of research that work together to create and develop the new possibilities of the world through the integration of liberal arts and technological sciences.

NATALIE WAGNER 

graduate student in student affairs from Chicago

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