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View Diary: Case for a Liberal Arts Education (140 comments)

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  •  Steve Jobs and Thomas Kuhn (17+ / 0-)

    1. Steve Jobs said the Apple OS became what it is (graphic and user-friendly) because of a calligraphy class he took on a lark in college. He then went on to talk about his other college liberal arts classes to discuss their influence.

    2. Thomas Kuhn has an excellent book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" which details how scientific breakthroughs never seem to come out of the disciplines and training, but almost always out of left field (i.e. from people who are not trained to reproduce the dogmatic constraints of their scientific paradigm) and he credits a broad range of knowledge that includes the liberal arts for such breakthroughs.

    3. If you want to know about the importance of the liberal arts, look at the MIT Media Lab and also the Pentagon's own DARPA research laboratory. These are two of the most cutting edge research groups in the country, and they are heavily involved in questions of technology and culture which are informed by the liberal arts. The internet was invented at DARPA.

    4. The American higher education system rose to prominence in the world precisely because of its generalist approach to world problems which encouraged creativity and imaginative thinking. Anecdotally speaking, faculty from foreign countries treasure this aspect of the American university and compare it favorably to that of their home countries.

    5. A recent study (http://www.amazon.com/...) showed that college is wasted on a great many students. Much of this is cultural (sports and partying) but a good chunk of the problem is that universities, in order to compete and attract students, lower the standards of courses. The authors found that Business degrees in particular were highly problematic and that students in those degrees gained very little from 4 years of education. Now, maybe there's a much higher correlation of partying to studying among business majors, but the authors also discovered that the gains made by liberal arts students in those 4 years were considerable.

    6. The liberal arts are cheap. They keep the costs of higher education down. Administrators always seem to want to cut the liberal arts but with little attention given to the bottom line (i.e many liberal arts departments, esp. the big ones, operate in the black, and it's the high cost engineering and research programs that operate in the red because of high expenditures). For liberal arts faculty, heat the room and provide lighting and they are fine.

    7. While entry-level pay for liberal arts majors is lower, many liberal arts majors (if you remove majors such as fine arts and such from the equation) do better mid-career than business majors. If you look at Payscale.com, that philosophy major is earning more than business majors in mid-career.

    The diarist did an excellent job in discussing the benefits to society of a liberal arts education. I wanted to simply add a few nitty gritty arguments.

    There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

    by upstate NY on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 05:22:34 AM PDT

    •  Joke (5+ / 0-)
      For liberal arts faculty, heat the room and provide lighting and they are fine.
      A computer science professor asked for a $200,000 cluster for a new academic building.  The dean called the professor onto the carpet and started yelling:  
      "What the Hell, $200,000?  Why can't you be more like the mathematics department---all they need are pencils, paper and erasers!!  Or why can't you be more like the philosophy department---all they need are pencils and paper!!!"

      My head says "No" but my heart says "Yes". And then my liver says "What?" and my butt's all like "Farrrrrrt" --jbou

      by Caj on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 06:19:10 AM PDT

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    •  8. Encouraging thinking is patriotic (5+ / 0-)

      It's good for America (and the world) to encourage self reliance and critical thinking and promote a practice of real listening, exchange and dialogue...original thinking, creative capitol. Imagine a country where everyone was capable of in  depth critical thinking! What a notion!

    •  but engineering and sciences pay for themselves (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril

      Engineering and sciences departments receive income from grants that pay for their fancy buildings and equipment. Many science professors are expected to have their salaries covered by these grants (called being on "soft money").

      If humanities education were actually cheaper, than Sarah Lawrence and Bennington would be the least expensive colleges in the country.

      •  That's a silly comparison (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MariaSquared, Sparhawk

        Sarah Lawrence college isn't insanely expensive because it's expensive to teach "liberal arts."  It's insanely expensive because it's a designer label for the upper class.

        It's a myth that engineering and sciences pay for themselves through extramural funding.  External funding is used to pay for equipment and to fund graduate students (tuition+stipend.)  It doesn't pay the salaries of the professors or cover the operations of the department.

        You can verify this for yourself just be realizing that you can major in chemistry, and therefore there are professors who teach it---and are thus paid by the university.  If they were paying their salaries entirely off of external research grants, they would have no teaching obligations.

        My head says "No" but my heart says "Yes". And then my liver says "What?" and my butt's all like "Farrrrrrt" --jbou

        by Caj on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 10:19:27 AM PDT

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        •  Great response Caj, AND... (0+ / 0-)

          the thing about those expensive liberal arts schools that few mention is that the cost-per-student is often much lower than the tuition. Which means they are redistributing about 40% of the tuition money in the form of scholarship.

          People I guess don't like to talk about this, but the fact is that our best public universities have a similar cost-per-student as these private institutions.

          There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

          by upstate NY on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:55:20 PM PDT

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        •  it is pretty expensive (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dirkster42

          to teach liberal arts properly, in small seminars that require lots and lots of mature faculty.

          •  Two comments: (0+ / 0-)

            First, it doesn't make sense to talk about the cost of teaching "liberal arts."  

            You don't teach liberal arts, you teach humanities, or sciences, or whatnot.  "Liberal arts" means that a student takes a lot of courses from many different subjects.  

            Second, teaching any subject properly requires small class sizes.  Universities attempt to maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio across all departments; they don't just need it for discussion-oriented humanities courses.

            My head says "No" but my heart says "Yes". And then my liver says "What?" and my butt's all like "Farrrrrrt" --jbou

            by Caj on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 07:06:07 AM PDT

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            •  when you're talking (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Killer of Sacred Cows

              about a liberal arts college, as some of us have been, then you are talking about the cost of delivering instruction from class to class, subject to subject.

              Large universities sometimes (often, for intro level courses) have giant lectures for undergrads, with discussion sections led by cheap grad student T.A.s. So the school pays one career-level salary (unless they use adjuncts), and several minimum wage salaries for the T.A.s.

              Elite liberal arts colleges use qualified faculty to teach classes of 15 - 20 students across the curriculum. It's more expensive to organize things that way.

      •  The studies I've seen included grants. (0+ / 0-)

        This is why countries like Canada charge $4k a year more for undergraduate engineering majors.

        There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

        by upstate NY on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:53:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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