By Breanne Smith
Ohio University has excelled as a liberal arts institution since its early days, offering Latin, Greek, geography, philosophy, mathematics and other courses leading to a well-rounded education. Tuesday, the campus community got a better understanding of what that means for students' futures and why a dedicated group of students is letting people know.
A student-run liberal arts task force hosted three receptions, educating and welcoming student, faculty and alumni feedback on task force initiatives during what Student Senate, deans and Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl named the Year of Liberal Arts.
"We're trying to engage students in a comprehensive way to get them thinking about the value of general education," Patrick Heery, task force leader and senior Honors Tutorial College classics and Arts and Sciences English double major, said. "How does this relate to my major, my life? The connections are not always clear. We spend too much time teaching the 'what' and not enough teaching the 'why'."
The task force has tried to educate students about the liberal arts by presenting and taking surveys in Learning Communities' University College 190 courses, designed to introduce new students to the university and available resources. The task force also has created a script for recruitment purposes in the Office of Admissions, produced a film to be released next week, made recommendations for academic advising and clustering of Tier II courses, and designed a Web site.
Ben Ogles, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hired Heery to lead the task force in developing a process that could be used on an ongoing basis to help students understand the point of general education.
"The impetus originally was to help students be more thoughtful," Ogles said. "If you think about the typical finance student or engineering student, it might not seem relevant to take a women's studies class, but to me it's completely relevant. We have to help them see why."
A general promotion effort geared toward students started the series of receptions, answering student questions about the benefits of a liberal arts education. An open meeting for faculty and staff garnered more dialogue, though, about the task force's current efforts and future projects.
"When I went to school, education included the concept of living an examined life, a phrase you don't hear much now," Susan Sarnoff, associate professor of social work, said. "The idea was to be not just a careerist, but a humanist."
Faculty suggested to the task force that it needed to communicate with professors in a different way than sending papers that outlined suggestions for promoting the liberal arts through advising and classroom work. The receptions and meetings were a way to do that.
"There is a mass of papers that comes across our desks," Tom Carpenter, chair of the Classics and World Religions Department, said, indicating the packet of information provided by the task force. "This is not going to get read."
"Nothing replaces one-on-one contact," Linda Rice, assistant professor of English, agreed. "Getting coffee or lunch with a professor gives you a built-in cheerleader and makes the case in a way that e-mail, blogs or Web sites never will."
The evening reception brought faculty, students and alumni together to further discuss the meaning of a liberal arts education.
Honors Tutorial College Dean Ann Fidler reflected on the scholars and philosophers who have tried for 500 years to define the benefits of the liberal arts, but she also got her point across with humor.
"All that eloquence is masking the value of the liberal arts," she joked. "The true value of the liberal arts is that it allows you to laugh at Monty Python."
Due to the increasing view of the task force as a necessity in promoting the liberal arts, it will become a permanent institution that will not disband with the end of the Year of Liberal Arts in December, Heery said.
"We're an initializing force, and this needs to be a continued dialogue," he said. "The guiding philosophy behind this force has been that this is a message that really needs to be coming from the students."
Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to contribute their thoughts about the Year of Liberal Arts via a blog at www.ohio.edu/liberalarts.
Anita Martin contributed to this story.