The Future of the Liberal Arts


Harnessing the Winds of Change

The liberal arts in times of transformation 

Across Emory’s intellectual landscape over the past year, conversations about the central and critical role of the liberal arts have been springing up almost organically, as well as independently of one another. And this spring, a Commission on the Liberal Arts launched a sustained, systematic inquiry into defining the liberal arts for the university's future. This issue of the Academic Exchange sets out to capture the growing energy and excitement around these questions on our campus and examine the forces influencing the conversations.  >>more

At the Crossroads

The liberal arts have become something of a battleground between continuity and change. Powerful forces originating from beyond the academy are reshaping what transpires within traditional departments, compelling new kinds of scholarship and new directions in graduate training.  >>more

Knowledge in All Its Forms

A proliferation of articles and books that speak to a crisis in higher education in the past decade has brought increasing focus upon the financial bottom line of what is sometimes taken to be an almost exclusively corporate enterprise. This reflects, in part, the perhaps quite natural tendency of the modern research university to support specialization and give priority to functions that can command significant external funding.  >>more


Talent and Deficit in Left-Handedness

Approximately 10 percent of the human population is left-handed and probably has been since the beginning of our species. For most of human history, including much of the planet today, left-handedness has been stigmatized. Thus, the words “left” and “left-hand” in almost all the world’s languages have negative connotations—from “sinister” in Latin and Italian to “dishonest” in Mandarin. Yet for all the attention left-handedness has received, almost every basic question about its origin, extent, function, and consequences remains unanswered.  >>more

Understanding the Origins and Nature of Democracy

About once a decade the Emory faculty revisits the question of a liberal arts curriculum and asks what undergraduate students ought to know. Over the past forty years, the faculty has swung back and forth, sometimes virtually abandoning any effort to impose requirements.  >>more

INQuiring Minds

With the recently launched “Ways of Inquiry” (INQ) curriculum, Oxford College’s general education program in the liberal arts, freshmen and sophomores now learn through discovery. That is, in an INQ course, students learn and apply knowledge the ways that scholars and researchers in a particular discipline ask questions and create knowledge.  >>more

Q&A with Chilton D. Varner, Partner at King & Spalding, Emory Trustee, Commission on the Liberal Arts Member 

"The critics of the liberal arts are getting more vocal simply because of the economy and because of a marketplace where people who have jobs to offer want more specialized experience at the front end."  >>more

Q&A with Sarah McPhee, Professor of Art History and Co-Chair, Quality Enhancement Plan 

"I think Emory has a real opportunity to use the SACS reaccreditation review as a stimulus for redefining and rethinking the importance of a liberal arts education for American youth and Emory graduates today."  >>more

An Experiment in Progress

As the final exam began my students broke into groups, huddling around laptops, reams of numbers, and books of poetry. Low conversations rumbled through the classroom, punctuated by raised hands and urgent questions about what on earth we were doing. My job: demonstrating how the visualization software worked again, pushing them to think further about the emerging results, and reminding them that this was just another experiment.  >>more

To Praise Technology But Not Worship It

Twenty-five years ago, I took five hundred dollars—the extent of my savings—and made a foray into the stock market. As a freshly minted graduate who had used a Kaypro 10 portable (better “luggable,” as it weighed 26 pounds) computer to write my dissertation, I was sure that personal computing was the wave of the future. Using my critical research skills, I narrowed my choices to two companies: Kaypro and Apple.  >>more

Creativity and the Virtues of Difference

Plenty of research suggests that people have a natural tendency to want to be around people like themselves. This partly is driven by proximity. We are simply more likely to know and form close relationships with people who share the same space. This natural tendency is also driven by the fact that it generally is easier to be around people who are similar.  >>more

The Liberal Arts

The artful caregiver must be an astute student of science and humanity. Whether they are recommending increased exercise, administering a vaccination, or performing an organ transplant, those providing help to the sick or attempting to prevent illness are interventionists.  >>more

"The Inner Strength of our Social Order"

The place of law in the liberal arts curriculum—and of the nature of law as a liberal art—are not new questions. More than fifty years ago, the late Harold J. Berman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor at the Emory University School of Law, saw in the study of law in the liberal arts curriculum "an opportunity and a challenge . . . which will serve not only scholarship in many fields but also the inner strength of our social order."  >>more