Letter to the editor
January 19, 2009
Filed under News
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As discussed in The Northerner’s Dec. 3 story ‘Credit Hours May Change: Committee Looking at Reducing Requirements,’ it appears changes are in store for NKU’s General Education program. As one of many hard-working and dedicated Northern faculty, I am sensitive to student concerns regarding their college education. Keeping Northern affordable is a critical concern. It’s logical to say that we should reduce the number of hours required so students can focus on their chosen majors. But the situation is more complex. We need to think very carefully about what may be lost in the process of ‘streamlining’ the General Education curriculum.
What we call ‘GenEd’ at NKU actually goes by a number of names. In fact, the choice of the name ‘General Education’ was probably an unfortunate one; it suggests that the courses are somehow bland or unfocused. Despite the name, what the program really comprises is the Liberal Arts core of a University education. It is the Liberal Arts experience that distinguishes a University education from a technical or vocational education. Why, then, do American Universities require all students to be educated in the Liberal Arts first and in a specialization later?
The answer comes in two parts.
The most common goal of the Liberal Arts experience is that a diverse education fosters critical thinking and broad awareness. The Liberal Arts are crucial to helping students acquire the knowledge and skills to comprehend and navigate a fluid world. It seems odd that even as we talk about ‘internationalizing’ our campus, we are threatening to limit exposure to the knowledge that best offers insight into the world.
A less common goal of the liberal arts is preparing individuals for leadership. In almost every part of the world, people in political power and who are leaders of their field are educated in a close equivalent to the Liberal Arts.
It is apparent that the primary focus is to examine human nature. Gaining this broad perspective on humanity, developing the tools of communication and motivation, is critical to effective leadership. It is the issue of producing leaders that brings me to what a rare and beautiful school NKU is.
NKU, and schools like it, are revolutionary in that they seek to provide the skills that were once the privilege of few. This experiment in higher education has been a source of tension. A University education takes longer and is more expensive. It demands time and places more demands upon students, just as it offers them greater potential. The taxpayers, families and students who pay for these educations are often strained.
I fear that undermining the Liberal Arts curriculum at NKU is giving in to inevitable pressure for programs to be less demanding. Because students are here to learn and have their efforts evaluated, they are not only the consumers of a product; they are also the products of a University.
General education is not an impediment to a University education. It is not something that should be ‘streamlined’ in order to let students ‘get on’ with the business of their majors. Rather, it makes a professional education more than a technical degree. A broad Liberal Arts experience also offers individuals the skills to reach beyond a career defined by ‘going to work’ and aspire to a life of involvement and leadership.