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College of Arts and Sciences Dean George Watson tells the Association of Retired Faculty that "creative and progressive work is at the core of the liberal arts."
When American novelist Mark Twain heard
that his obituary had been published in a New York City newspaper he is
reported to have quipped, Reports of my death have been greatly
George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the
University of Delaware, believes the same could be said about the
perception that a liberal arts education is soon to be a thing of the
past in American higher education.
Watson expressed his views on the subject during a talk given at a
luncheon meeting of the University of Delaware Association of Retired
Faculty held Tuesday, March 3, in Clayton Hall.
There is an increased skepticism over the value of a college degree
that pervades the higher education landscape, with parents, students and
the public expressing interest in the return on their investment of
tuition dollars, Watson said.
The value of a college degree is often measured in terms of a return
on the investment, including the readiness of finding the first job and
what the starting salary is, Watson said. While the readiness for
liberal arts graduates for getting the first job is generally fine,
there is a lot of discussion regarding the competitive starting salary
of liberal arts graduates against that of graduates with more
professionally oriented degrees.
Concerns about the return on investment of tuition dollars are driven
by the rising cost of a college education, increasing levels of student
debt, unemployment challenges after graduation and an economy that is
still weak while continuing to rebound, Watson said.
Supporting the liberal arts education
Despite such concerns and press headlines that pose questions on the
value of a liberal arts education, the news is not all grim, Watson
One of the things we are trying to do is to move the discussion from
the first job out of college, which, for most students only lasts eight
months, and focusing on the long term, sustainable career that you can
develop with a liberal arts degree, Watson said. Evidence shows that
in a lot of enterprises, the liberal arts person is the CEO in charge of
the organization, so your boss most likely will come from the liberal
Proponents of the liberal arts education need to regularly explain
the value proposition of the educational experiences and degrees
offered, Watson said.
This is not just in terms of getting a job, but also how graduates
are able to think critically, communicate effectively and be productive
members of society, Watson said. We in the College of Arts and
Sciences lay claim to being the intellectual and cultural heart of the
University. Its in our strategic plan.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
George Watson discusses the value and the future of a liberal arts education, speaking at the March meeting of the UD Association of Retired Faculty.
Watson noted the importance of providing encouragement and support
for innovative interdisciplinary collaboration across campus, and
integrating research scholarship, service and engagement with the public
into the student curriculum.
Creative and progressive work is at the core of the liberal arts,
and a liberal education is one of the core values of our college,
Watson said. It really does lay the groundwork for lifelong success.
As evidenced by its model in general education and majors, the
College of Arts and Sciences employs a T-shaped approach, combining
areas of in-depth study with specific areas of interest and exposure to
educational experiences across a wide range of academic fields, Watson
The higher order skills developed through the college experience
help students get jobs and have a successful career, Watson said. What
we are accomplishing with our students in four or five years really
does depend less on what their major field is. We believe in that
wholeheartedly in our college.
As leaders, graduates will need to identify the important problems
that need to be solved, Watson said. Identifying these problems is
just as important as solving them.
Watson added that a liberal arts education affords students the
opportunity to develop skills necessary to synthesize, contextualize and
communicate information and to work with increasingly diverse groups of
I believe that the liberal arts have a way of bridging boundaries,
bringing us together, illuminating the human condition and reminding us,
in a world where were frequently faced with issues that divide us,
that we are all connected through our humanity, Watson said. The arts
are also a critically important avenue to helping us engage students and
Signature programs in the college, Watson noted, include the
undergraduate degree in art conservation, the three-year master of
science degree in art conservation offered in collaboration between UD
and Winterthur, and the doctoral program in preservation studies in
collaboration with the Center for Material Culture Studies.
Another example of engaging students in the humanities is the
environmental humanities minor, based on the premise that the most basic
environmental questions are humanistic, Watson said.
The environmental sciences are important, Watson said, But we also
wanted students to explore why we have environmental problems, what
shapes our ideas about our place in nature and how has that relationship
has changed over time.
Watson also noted the colleges commitment to providing students with
the opportunity to engage and experience the arts in local and global
The arts continue to receive accolades, whether its the notable
performances by our REP or accomplishments by our internationally
renowned UD Chorale and, increasingly, other student ensembles traveling
around the world, Watson said. Our programs exemplify the
extraordinary power of the arts in connecting communities and cultures
worldwide. I couldnt imagine our college without the strong arts
portfolio that it possesses.