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Author Defends Liberal Arts Educations In A World That Celebrates STEM

Wesleyan University
Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, says liberal arts educations are still vital to today's workforce.

Today's young adults pressured into pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics might be left to wonder about the relevancy of liberal arts in the modern world.

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut and author of the book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer that liberal arts educations enhance not only students' subjects of study, but also how that subject relates to the world around them.

“It’s not so much that you take Latin and Greek or that you study religion, rather than, let’s say, biology,” he said. “It’s that whatever you study, you study it in connection to other things, understanding how what you’re focused on fits into a broader context.”

This focus helps liberal arts students learn outside of the classroom and gives them context to better adapt to world changes, Roth said.

“It’s a mistake to think that you have to narrow your focus in order to be successful,” Roth said. “The more narrow we become, the more likely we are to be irrelevant in the next economic change that happens in the economy.”

Roth said he believes the liberal arts should provide students with the ability to pursue their dreams while still being of assistance to society.

By teaching someone how to program a company’s code in a single coding language, a person will be made obsolete should that company change its code, he said. But teaching someone many computer codes, and even how to write new languages themselves, lends itself to better preparation for sudden industry change.

He also stressed the importance of getting people to think outside accepted norms. Liberally minded people, he said, are more likely to be creative and entrepreneurial.

“Education should teach you to have the courage to not conform,” he said. “If we breed a country of conformists, what we breed is tyranny.”

The university president called on colleges to take their civic responsibility more seriously in training people to be both open minded and critical.

“Acknowledging the bonds that connect us, as well as the effort of standing on your own two feet, is that powerful combination of a liberal education.” 

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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