President Coleman Critiques State of Liberal Arts in Recent Article

Sep 08, 2010
President Coleman reasserted her critique of liberal arts colleges in an independent Vermont newspaper last month, declaring, as she did in her much-publicized 2009 TED speech, that "genuine liberal arts education no longer exists."

"The liberal arts isn't about majoring in anything," she told the Burlington-based newspaper Seven Days. "It's about developing fundamental capacities, both ethical and intellectual. It's about the arts, in the broadest sense. A liberal arts education asks appropriate questions about what it means to be human beings. It shouldn't fragment into pieces across the educational landscape. But liberal arts today is defined by whether you majored in physics or literature."

The popular model of liberal arts education, Coleman says—"to jettison every interest except one, and within that one to continually narrow the focus"—fails to awaken, to the detriment of democracy, a sense of civic responsibility in its students.

"How do you account for the spectacular and rising focus on private interest and the specific lack of focus on the public realm among educated citizens in this country today?" she asks.

That very question is driving Bennington's groundbreaking initiative to put urgent public needs at the center of its curriculum. The new "citizenship curriculum," which will be housed in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, aims to change the odds that Bennington graduates will be committed to—and capable of—effective action in the world.

To read more of President Coleman's Seven Days interview, click here.