Many scholars and educators have contemplated the importance of a liberal arts education, so I do not seek to presume that I am stating anything new in this month’s blog. Rather, this month I aim to reflect on my view of the importance and meaning of a liberal arts education.
According to Merriam-Webster (Liberal Arts, n.d.), a liberal arts education is intended to provide intellectual capacities to students through the study of a wide variety of disciplines including those outside of one’s own major. At Saint Vincent, this comprises studying philosophy, theology, social sciences, fine arts and the natural sciences among other areas of knowledge. Such a curriculum is, of course, useful to “know things,” develop one’s intellect and to become an “interesting person.” But, even more importantly, such a curriculum helps to give an individual a perspective on the vastness of our world and the human intellect as well as prepare oneself to become a more holistic societal member.
As I teach and research in the area of business management, I believe that hiring individuals with a liberal arts educational background is important to the operations of organizations. The ability to think critically (Gray, 2016) and learn continuously (Senge, 2014) are two key attributes that organizations have identified as being crucial for new hires to possess. I like to think that a liberal arts education helps individuals to develop in these ways.
Taking courses in one’s major area alone is not enough to develop a fulfilled intellect or, from a business perspective, contribute holistically to one’s organization. From the business discipline, famed management guru Henry Mintzberg suggested that students interested in business who study a curriculum that focuses solely on developing analytical business skills do themselves and the organizations in which they work a disservice (Mintzberg, 2004). Instead, one’s education should be informed by the liberal arts, which I am proud to say is our approach at Saint Vincent.
But what should be included in a liberal arts education? Some faculty colleagues and I were lucky to participate in a recent three-day Benedictine Heritage seminar on campus that was led by Fr. Tom Hart, O.S.B., and Dr. Jerome Foss. In the seminar, we discussed the Benedictine monastic tradition of the library. That is, Benedictines have a history of preserving knowledge through copying and retaining written works from a vast array of disciplines. In reflecting on a liberal arts education, this suggests to me that any and all disciplines (including my area of business) should have a voice and inclusion in a liberal arts approach to education. I am reminded of Chapter 12, Verse 4-6 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
“Just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function … we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (New American Standard Bible)
Similarly, just as each person has different functions (or “gifts”) that are important, each academic discipline informs knowledge differently and uniquely, but no less importantly. In other words, we are to learn from as many disciplines as possible as we continuously form our view of the world.
What do you think? If you have a liberal arts background, how has it helped you? What did you gain from it? Do you have any great educational experiences you’d like to share? I can’t wait to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, message me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/) or leave me a comment below.
Dr. Mike Urick
Gray, A. 2016. The Ten Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/. Accessed June 3, 2019.
Liberal Arts. n.d. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberal%20arts. Accessed June 3, 2019.
Mintzberg, H. (2004). Managers, not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Senge, P. M. (2014). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. Crown Business.