Skidmore president kicks off lecture series on liberal arts

The future of the liberal arts has become a popular discussion recently. The rising cost of tuition, combined with decreasing family income, has forced many to put an emphasis on the “value” of a college degree: making sure that students get the most for what they are paying for. Others have pointed to the significant representation of liberal arts graduates in leadership positions as proof of the success of these institutions.

In an attempt to continue the ongoing discussion of the value of a liberal arts education, Wheaton College has begun a series of events, lectures and forums, titled “Thought Leaders: An Ongoing Conversation on the Future of the Liberal Arts.” Last Mon., April 8, Phil Glotzbach, President of Skidmore College, alongside our own Ronald Crutcher, President of Wheaton College, hosted a panel discussion to share their thoughts and answer questions about the importance of the liberal arts.

“We’re facing challenges,” President Glotzbach said, “but we’re also facing opportunities.” President Crutcher agreed, “There are no easy answers, but there are a lot of opportunities.”

When discussing the value of the liberal arts, Glotzbach cited a study that found that the average college graduate can expect to have nine different careers throughout their working life. However, according to Glotzbach, the significance of having a broad education was lost in the past two to three decades. “A shift occurred in the national conversation of higher education,” said Glotzbach. “The focus on investment and access is now gone, replaced by a discussion of price and cost.”

Both Crutcher and Glotzbach mentioned that students receiving liberal arts educations are now learning the values that current public discourse is lacking: the ability to talk across racial, economic and ethnic differences, as well as the ability to incorporate scientific data into discussions.

Crutcher cited an argument from the book Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student by Arthur Levine, saying: “While very comfortable with global settings, college students don’t really have the information or background to engage people about foreign government or politics.”

Glotzbach emphasized the importance of successful discussion, saying, “It is important to seek a wide variety of opinions before you make a decision,” citing the Bay of Pigs invasion and invasion of Iraq as two events in which leaders should have sought a broader range of opinions from advisors.

The discussion then shifted to how politics have affected higher education. “Political bias is getting in the way of the real discussion,” said Glotzbach. He argued that education needs to “recapture the term liberal,” referring to the Latin phrase artes liberales (“liberal arts” in English), not the political term that equates “liberal” with the Democratic Party.

Crutcher and Glotzbach concluded the discussion by posing the question of how such institutions adapt and evolve along with the changing world, while at the same time, maintaining and preserving the values of the liberal arts.

Carol Geary Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, will be the next guest speaker, touching upon the role of faculty leadership in creating a successful environment for students. This forum will take place on Thurs., April 18, in Hindle Auditorium