To the Editor:
Your article, “What Gets Forgotten in Debates About the Liberal Arts” (The Chronicle, March 5), provided a useful discussion about the necessary nuance that needs to be a part of any discussion of college curricula and their objectives. But it perpetuated an increasingly common error in conflating “liberal arts” with “humanities,” which of course constitutes only one part of a liberal-arts curriculum. The distinction matters. In encompassing the arts, social sciences, humanities, and hard sciences, liberal-arts curricula emphasize the fundamental interconnectedness of human inquiry. They are built on the principle that full understanding of a subject can never be found within any single discipline, but must be sought through many different means.
The advantages of such an approach in developing a career were alluded to in the article, but the discussion was hamstrung by an ignorance of what the “liberal arts” really encompasses. More worrisomely, the expulsion of the hard sciences and some social sciences from our popular conception of the liberal arts will only encourage the further instrumentalization of the sciences as valuable solely for their capacity to be monetized, and not for the knowledge that they create and the habits of mind that they foster. I urge the editors at The Chronicle to be more careful and consistent in how such terms are used in their articles, both for the sake of precision in these important discussions and for the preservation of an educational model that has enriched many lives in very many ways.
Benjamin C. Tilghman
Department of Art + Art History