A Bastion of the Liberal Arts

A Bastion of the Liberal Arts

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By Tim Lindsay When Robert E. Lee became president of Wash­ington College, he imbued the school with a rich pallet of new business programs, added a school of journalism, and folded the Lexington Law School into the College. Lee acted further to introduce a score of science courses and others in math and the lan­guages. These bold moves largely reinstituted Washing­ton College, bringing the school into a position of na­tional prestige for later generations. When perceived in conjunction with his sole demand that all students act as a gentleman, Lee’s broad academic patronage makes it appear pointedly obvious that the famed general and philanthropist had no interest in promoting and educat­ing cohorts only in one particular realm of thought. Lee sought for students to liberate their minds, to achieve a broader reality and thereby, become mature and cul­tured intellectuals. Washington and Lee has invariably and unceasingly accomplished what Lee endeavored.

Yet on a broader national spectrum, the liberal arts today sit on precarious footing. With rising education costs at liberal arts schools and the risks of hampering debt, stu­dents can easily find it more opportune to seek employ­ment out of high school or conservatively decide to pur­sue finance rather than investigate Socrates’ prudence or Faulkner’s literary prowess. Of course, to eschew busi­ness or pre-med borders insanity; this writer opted for a major in Accounting and Business Administration, itself an intellectually demanding and cultivating sub­ject. But as Hillary Clinton fights for a debt-free tuition, the imminence of traditional colleges as an expensive luxury does not seem improbable. Her campaign has permeated the dialogue of many and has given radically progressive ideas conversation, whether warranted or not. Anything similar to Clinton’s proposal could leave the liberal arts in the wake of four-year public schools.

But in spite of raw speculation, the indispensable value of a liberal arts education could never depreciate with additional commendation and renewed assertion of merit. In early August, John Agresto, the former presi­dent of St. John’s College in Santa Fe., NM., and the American University of Iraq, published a piece entitled “The Suicide of the Liberal Arts.” At an early age, Mr. Agresto had to decide between a steady income on the docks, or a liberal arts experience - an experience which would leave him with a background in Greek architec­ture and philosophy, subjects that are valuable to a de­gree but without much tangible benefit. “Yes, this “lib­eral education” is worth something. But so is making, doing, building, and working—so is the good stuff,” Mr. Agresto writes. “And that tension—between the practi­cal and the intellectual and more academic and cultural on the other—has been and still is at the heart of Amer­ica’s historical ambivalence toward liberal education.”

But while the author makes a sound point, his latter contention that current stewards of the liberal arts have debilitated the minds of its students through furtive “indoctrination” and “prejudices of the current culture,” perhaps apt on a broader scale, simply have not re­vealed themselves at W&L. Mr. Agresto insinuates that educators have manipulated the study of liberal arts as a means to confront current issues and figures and that a broad range of distribution requirements and options has cultivated “intellectual randomness” in our stu­dents. Even though Washington and Lee offers a broad portfolio of foundation and distribution requirements, One could argue that students can still avoid a core ex­amination of “the finest books, to alternative answers to the most compelling questions, to great literature and art and pivotal historical events.” Other students will inevitably gain exposure to the various degrees of thought processes which are even more integral to the fiber of liberal arts, and vital to freedom of thought.

The author also maintains that limited interaction between Finance and Engineering majors with His­tory and Classics majors, furthers this isolated rela­tionship between the practical and academic. That trend only assists in the incapacitation of the liberal arts. This argument merits little import for W&L, as a student who hasn’t taken a course in the Williams School, on the Colonnade, or in the Science Cen­ter would be very difficult to locate, to say the least.

Over the years, W&L has continued its firm commitment to engendering well-rounded students and serving as a depository of knowledge, amid a number of monumental and sometimes contentious decisions.

Over the years, W&L has continued its firm commit­ment to engendering well-rounded students and serv­ing as a depository of knowledge, amid a number of monumental and sometimes contentious decisions.

To explain this well-known reality to students, alumni, and staff would be a waste of effort for all sides. Spring Term, Mock Convention, and our physically intercon­nected campus illustrate this academic dedication. How­ever, W&L should be wary of a potentially imminent at­tack on the liberal arts. To protect one of its staples, the University and community should move forward with the intent to expose students to all aspects of reality, the things that have improved society and those that have encumbered its progression. To the degree that Mr. Agresto says, “They can have us ponder law and justice, the nature of innocence and causes of moral culpabil­ity, forms of government and the ordering of societies that can preserve our civilization,” would be a summa­tion of what Robert E. Lee himself might have sought.

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