Contemporary applications of the liberal arts today and at Elon University

Photo, Video and Article by Erin Valentine

What is the true value of the liberal arts? Are the elitist and impertinent stereotypes true? Or do they have practical value that is just misunderstood?

“The Value of the Liberal Arts,” a panel hosted by Phi Beta Kappa at Elon University today, discussed the critiques of the liberal arts and the peeling away of stereotypes to discover what the liberal arts can offer and how to shape it for today’s job rigors.

Elizabeth Minnich, the Senior Scholar, Association of American Colleges & Universities: Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, and Mary Gowan, the dean of the College of Business at James Madison University and former dean of the Love School of Business at Elon University, both have varying views of the value of the liberal arts.

Elizabeth Minnich, Mary Gowan and Jason Kirk discuss the value, or lack thereof, in the liberal arts

Elizabeth Minnich, Mary Gowan and Jason Kirk discuss the value, or lack thereof, in the liberal arts

Hosted in the LaRose Theater in the Koury Business Center, the panel was moderated by Jason Kirk, associate professor of Political Science and Policy Studies at Elon University.

Minnich and Gowan began the panel by stating their positions and viewpoints on the liberal arts. Minnich believes strongly in the liberal arts, while Gowan aims for more practical training.

Minnich leaned toward the fact that the liberal arts is essential to learning and keeping the world well-rounded.

“The preparation [for a career] should be broader and deeper and lifelong,” Minnich said. “Not narrowed, technical training.”

Gowan spoke more about the fact that it is not practical to not study for a direct job.

“In an ideal world, many of us would go to college and we would study whatever we were interested in, with no thought for what the return was going to be on our investment,” Gowan said. “In the practical world, students are spending alot of money to go to college now.”

One of the questions Kirk posed was about the price of talking about and engaging ideas.

“I think the bigger issue is how do we reinvent ourselves that brings down the cost,” Gowan said. “And how do we reinvent ourselves that holds on to the value of the liberal arts education, while managing to help people be prepared to make a difference and to have the jobs that they need.”

“I find it astoundingly curious that all of that money goes to buildings and amenities… rather than the heart of the enterprise,” said Minnich.

Minnich encouraged students to realize that with the liberal arts, what we can do when we get together is think and talk and learn to listen.

Kirk also brought up the sense of anxiety about America’s place in the world and its future with the rise of other countries in educational and economical terms.

“We’re not strengthening the liberal arts,” said Minnich. “We’re undercutting them to pay for far more, supposedly, practical educations that will keep us competitive in a global economy.”

“How can we find that better match between people who can enjoy the poetry and have more of that appreciation as part of the liberal arts education,” Gowan said, “But also have those skills that are going to enable them to be contributing members to society.”


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