The University of Redlands is proud of its mission as a liberal arts and sciences university with excellent professional programs serving both traditional and adult working students. At this time the value of liberal education and the liberal arts is being questioned by prospective students and parents, governors and legislators, and a society struggling to recover from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. What in your view is the value of a liberal arts education in the 21st century as it is offered across the University of Redlands in the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, and the School of Continuing Studies?
This answer may sound like the “road less traveled.” But it’s really the road best traveled. In retrospect, it seems there could only have been one way to set out on my own unusual pathway in life to become your new president, and that was the foundation of a liberal arts and sciences education. If I had trained for my first job intellectually by drilling “a mile deep but only an inch wide,” I would have wasted a lifetime of possibilities. But my response to your question – which after all goes to the heart and soul of this University’s origins and its mission – cannot rest on personal apologetics.
I know that parents for generations have been telling their children to “go to college and get a job.” That didn’t start with the recent recession. But that advice is misguided at worst and without nuance at best. It misses the point about what constitutes true success in life.
Our faculty are called to a special task. They are creating engaged citizens who will be thinkers and leaders of our culture. We are not a vocational training school. Parents and students who seek the “pursuit of happiness,” as our founding fathers understood that phrase, are focused on all of life, and they see all of our rich cultural heritage and future as their prize. Liberal education sees the longest horizons in life.
I am fond of pointing out that Antonio Vivaldi held six positions before he became maestro de’concerti and wrote his more than 500 concertos (by the way, he first trained to be a priest). No one liberally educated can imagine their ultimate path in life. That’s what’s so exciting. Maybe the president you were seeking could have trained as a priest, or a neurologist, or a philosopher, or a musician. It shouldn’t matter. What should resonate with the values of U of R are the broad mindedness, flexibility, and resilience that originate in the kind of liberal education that Redlands offers.
Unfortunately, my assertions about long-term value may not be testable. If the results of a broad liberal education cannot be measured for decades, it makes it hard to find proof points, although people try. I offer a few. Thomas Cech’s research on origins of successful scientists (and my own research corroborated it) has shown that the most effective producers of Ph.D. scientists (as a proxy measure of success) are liberal arts colleges and universities. Surprisingly, it’s not the huge research-extensive universities, for the most part, but the classic liberal arts institutions that produce future scientists. That’s our sector.
A second point to make is the critical place that literate writing holds in a liberal education. Surveys report that a third of employers rate science skills as important in college graduates. By comparison, a whopping 90 percent rate writing and oral communicative skills as essential. It would be hard to find any job in which writing is unimportant. Reports, position papers, environmental impact statements, planning documents, grant proposals, year-end reports
...no matter what one does in life...writing about it, advocating, and convincing are essential parts of work.
The third proof point is the opinion from the business world about the importance of multidisciplinarity. Who succeeds after college? Those persons with the strongest fundamentals, the deepest knowledge of not only one discipline but roots dug deep in at least two. And better yet if they are taught to be entrepreneurs, with the ability to transform ideas into enterprises of lasting value. That definition encompasses not only innovation in commerce, science, and engineering but social entrepreneurs. Think Susan B. Anthony. Think Frederick Douglass. Think the next generation of alums of U of R who will be innovators because of the liberal educational ethos we create.