Future of liberal arts, sciences discussed

Mary Lindsay Welch Honors Hall was again filled, almost to capacity, to participate in the beginning of a series of events that will culminate in the inauguration of Lycoming College’s new president.

Dr. Nancy Cable presented a lecture entitled “The Liberal Arts and Sciences: An Enduring Future” as the presidential inauguration lecture.

Cable remarked how honored she was to be present at such a monumental cross-road for the college. The intersection of a distinguished past and the promise of an exciting future. Cable, who has held various roles at Bates College, the University of Virginia, Davidson College, Guilford College and Denison University explained the future of the liberal arts and sciences by first briefly exploring the past – the founding of Harvard University shortly after the landing at Plymouth Rock; the early examples of higher education of young men in philosophy, rhetoric and science; and the early roots of seminary colleges such as Lycoming.

She explained how the requirements for professors to become more educated individuals and a strong movement towards lectures and laboratory work arose in the early history of liberal arts.

“Three hundred years of classical education has demonstrated resiliency. Liberal arts colleges such as Lycoming have paid careful attention to threading the needle of continuity and change,” Cable said.

She also shared the example of some struggles that liberal arts institutes have had over time. Her prime example was Kenyon College, where the governing church refused to allow the college to teach sciences, which resulted in two professors teaching the sciences in secret from a living room.

Cable remarked how the liberal arts had endured the trials of the 1960s and ’70s when it came under scrutiny for a lack of diversity and potentially catering only to affluent. The liberal arts, Cable said, responded with drastic changes to open the door to a wider spectrum of applicants from vastly different socio- and economic backgrounds.

“At a time when you’re changing leaders it’s the perfect time to ask, why is it we have such an important role to play,” Cable asked the crowd.

She sought an answer to that question by explaining several values she found at the core of liberal arts education: a core focus on critical thinking; value in all venues that form thoughtful and informed debate; an investment in the moral dimensions of students’ lives; and the usage of knowledge to improve the world.

Cable then shared some interesting statistics with the crowd, such as language arts graduates are over represented amongst CEOs, medical students, law students and have a large percentage of the wealthiest entrepreneurs.

Technology is a doubled-edged sword facing the liberal arts, Cable explained. Growing technology helps to better educate students and provides numerous benefits, but it comes with a hefty price tag, which in turn causes higher costs for liberal arts institutes to try and balance.

“It’s rocking our world, and our budgets,” she said.

Cable concluded her speech by commending the strength and example Lycoming College has provided in regards to liberal arts education but also shared four tactics to use to ensure that strength remains in the future: to continue to hire and retain quality educators, to commit to doing “less better” or in other words quality over quantity in regards to programs, to focus on making every dollar counts in regards to the college’s mission and purpose, and to give the opportunity for reflection.