Why Liberal Arts?

Study.LibArtsPhotoAmid a national conversation about the value of a college degree—and of the liberal arts, specifically—Williams has launched a yearlong effort to examine and discuss the educational experience it provides.

“Why Liberal Arts?: Challenging, Transforming, Connecting” is an initiative of the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) that focuses on how students experience the liberal arts, how they make their way through the curriculum and whether they are taking full advantage of all the college has to offer.

The committee—led by Peter Low, professor of art, and made up of seven faculty members, six students and four staff members—focuses on the college’s curriculum and makes recommendations on policy related to it. This new initiative sees the CEP widening the angle of its lens. “Why Liberal Arts?” arose, in part, because the committee is interested in the reasons behind an increase in double majors and some sense that students feel compelled to graduate with a set of credentials.

Lee Park, who is a professor of chemistry, associate dean of the faculty and past chair of the CEP, says the initiative essentially looks at “what it is we do and, in a broader sense, why we do it.”

These broad questions are being explored through public lectures—including one in October titled “Justice, Privilege and Elite Education” by Harry Brighouse, author and University of Wisconsin philosophy and education policy professor—small dinner conversations, op-ed pieces in the student newspaper and a presence on Tumblr. It’s all meant to engage students and faculty in questions about why it matters to “think liberally,” Park says.

She adds that students will continually amass the practical skills needed to succeed in careers, but the time they spend in college offers a chance to explore widely. “The hope is that these public discussions will inspire the community to take maximum advantage of the Williams curriculum while they’re here,” Park says.

Follow the “Why Liberal Arts?” initiative on social media throughout the year using #whyliberalarts.