Trustees | General Education

Point of View: Liberal arts, An Ancient Idea Crucial to Our Future Success

THE OKLAHOMAN   |  July 12, 2020 by John H. Feaver

In my 20th year as president of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, I hear more and more about the importance of the traditional liberal arts in the contemporary world. Though the term dates to Classical antiquity, the idea of useful and necessary studies “worthy of a free people” remains a keystone for anyone wishing to effectively participate in the life of a democratic republic.

Often misrepresented, the liberal arts have nothing to do with simplistic political labels; they are, in fact, realms of study that lay the groundwork for most human knowledge. With a comprehensive education in the traditional arts and sciences, an individual can expect to have some applicable frame of reference for understanding almost anything. Instead of the presumptive specialization that some see as the better focus of higher education, a liberal arts curriculum provides an interdisciplinary basis that allows for exceptional adaptability, instills critical thinking and communicating skills, and emphasizes continual lifelong personal and professional improvement.

With the great upheaval we have seen this year, it helps me rest easier to see these values borne out by students I talk to at USAO. The first Oklahoma Legislature created this school in 1908 to serve a particular need. Initially a women’s college, the university has become a special destination for bright and curious students of every gender, culture and creed who value individual initiative and self-reliance, celebrate community service in their quest to become informed citizens, and strive to develop creative competence as participants in the workplace.

I have seen USAO grow in reputation due to my extraordinary teaching colleagues who provide our students with a college experience especially designed to produce these ambitious learning outcomes. We are the only Oklahoma institution to receive an “A” rating for the quality and content of our required arts and sciences core curriculum in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s national “What Will They Learn” annual survey. Additionally, our historic campus and small class sizes create a home-like atmosphere where students can forge lifelong relationships with their peers, professors and the wider community.

The motto of this nation is frequently understood as “from the many, one,” in the sense that the multiplicity and diversity of voices in a democratic republic learn to speak as one nation. This seemingly simple phrase also neatly sums up how a firm grounding in the diverse subjects that make up the liberal arts can help one develop into a truly whole human being. I remain confident in the critical importance of this type of education for effectively securing this country’s best place in the world.

John H. Feaver is president of USAO, the state’s only public liberal arts university.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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