Two mostly unrelated presentations at UW-Eau Claire on Wednesday shared at least one message in common: the importance of a liberal arts degree.
Bill Deresiewicz, an educator, literary critic and author, was a guest in the university’s Forum series.
Deresiewicz’s address was critical of “elite” colleges but “stressed the importance of liberal arts education, which he defined as classes in which knowledge is pursued for its own sake,” according to a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Ryan Patterson.
Chasten Buttigieg, whose husband, Pete Buttigieg, is a Democratic presidential candidate, was visiting his alma mater. Formerly Chasten Glezman, the Michigan native reflected on his time as a Blugold. Chasten’s coursework focused on theater and global studies.
“When I found theater at Eau Claire, I was at a pretty dark place in my life,” he said in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Sarah Seifert. “They saved my life.”
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An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation report released early this year said:
“Critics claim that a liberal arts education is worth less than the alternatives, and perhaps not even worth the investment at all. They argue that increasing costs and low future earnings limit the value of a liberal arts education, especially compared to alternative options such as pre-professional programs that appear to be better rewarded in the current labor market. Existing evidence does not support these conclusions.”
This is not to undermine the increasing importance of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, courses. It also doesn’t counter the growing influence of technical colleges and relatively recent emphasis on instilling job skills at the high school level. Such efforts should be celebrated.
What the Mellon study does say — in contrast to what many critics argue — is that a liberal arts education generally pays off.
“In a liberal arts setting, intellectual fearlessness is achieved through the development and enhancement of competence, community and character,” reads an opinion piece in Time magazine by Clayton Rose, president of Bowdoin College in Maine.
“We don’t tell students what to think. We strive to teach them how to think, to give them the knowledge and skills to develop the courage to think for themselves and shape their own principles, perspectives, beliefs and solutions to problems.”
Adds a paraphrased comment in Patterson’s story: “In general, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity are the most important skill sets that employers want.”
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Deresiewicz said in a TED talk that, “We need not fewer people to major in the liberal arts, we need many, many more.”
Chasten Buttigieg graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2014 and taught at First Stage Children’s Theater in Milwaukee. He also was director of curriculum at South Bend (Ind.) Civic Theatre. Now he’s joined his husband’s campaign. According to Seifert’s story, Chasten credits “his UW-Eau Claire degree for preparing him for an unexpected stint in the national spotlight.”
Jennifer Chapman, his UW-Eau Claire faculty adviser, concurred.
“I think when you hear him speak and interact with others,” she said in Seifert’s story, “he’s an embodiment of how the liberal arts can prepare someone for the unknown in life. He certainly didn’t think he’d be doing this.
“He is a terrific spokesperson for the importance of liberal arts.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor