Watch our Video: “The Value of a Liberal Arts Degree” and then read this year’s faculty essay contributions below:
The first essay comes to us from Jeanette Riley, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences here at UMass Dartmouth.
“I Believe in the Value of the Liberal Arts”
I am often asked the question, “what can you do with a degree in the liberal arts”? The simple answer is “anything!” But in a time when the liberal arts are under attack in the press and by politicians, the simple answer needs often isn’t enough. So, here’s a fuller answer. With a liberal arts education, you can pursue jobs across the spectrum of our economy – in businesses as sales, marketing, communications and human resources people; in non-profit organizations; in the publishing and media world; in public administrating; in technology firms; starting your own business; and, even more. Liberal arts graduates bring core skills to the work place – critical thinking; problem solving; teamwork; communication skills; creativity; flexibility. Graduates with a foundation in the liberal arts are self-motived and articulate individuals who bring a range of perspectives to the workplace, which fosters creativity and original thinking. At the same time, studying the liberal arts opens people’s minds and helps them think outside of their own experiences, which create tolerance for diversity and guides ethical decision making.
As a result of these skills that a liberal arts education develops, is it surprising that many top CEOs are liberal arts graduates? Here’s just a short list: Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks, BS Communications; Robert Iger, CEO Walt Disney, BA Communications; Richard Plepler, CEO HBO, BA Government; Carly Fiorino, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, BA Medieval History and Philosophy; Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, BA History and Literature; Patrick Byrne, CEO Overstock.com, BA Philosophy and Asian Studies; Lloyd Blankfein, CEO Goldman Sachs, BA History; Denise Morrison, CEO Campbell Soup, BS Economics and Psychology. And there are many more examples.
From this list, one can see that a liberal arts degree leads to career success. As a product of the liberal arts myself, I have experienced that success as an English professor and as Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, a position I never expected to hold. The skills I learned from my liberal arts background enable me to lead the largest college on campus as I am able to synthesize ideas, problem solve, manage a large budget, collaborate with a variety of people across many different areas, create new initiatives to enhance our students’ educational experience, and more. Despite the headlines suggesting liberal arts graduates end up as baristas in coffee shops, from my own experience and the successes I see in the business world, I continue to believe the liberal arts effectively prepares you for the future.
Not surprisingly, a Hart Research Associates 2013 survey shows that 74% of CEOs recommend a 21st-century liberal education as they believe it will create a more dynamic worker (AAUP). 93% of employers say that an employee’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve problems is more important than their undergraduate major. 80% of employers say that every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences. 3 out of 4 employers recommend a liberal arts and sciences education as the best way for success in today’s global economy.
This is why at UMass Dartmouth, we engage all our students in the University Studies curriculum, which provides a liberal arts foundation. This is not to say that you shouldn’t major in business, nursing, or engineering. We need all these professions, along with liberal arts graduates. If you are in one of our professional colleges, I encourage you to consider a minor in the liberal arts. I know nursing students who have benefited from minoring in Women’s & Gender Studies as they’ve learned more about issues women face in the workplace (yes, sexism still exists), as well as women’s health issues and politics impacting health policy from the perspectives of social scientists. I know business majors who have honed their writing skills by completing the minor in communications, and business leaders will tell you that writing is the core skill they seek in new hires. I know engineers who have fostered their creativity and ability to listen and empathize with people by engaging in a literature minor. As Steve Jobs, creator of Apple once said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
These are just a few examples, but it shows what I believe – the liberal arts are valuable to all of us for they bring us new perspectives, foster creativity, and add to how we view and interact with the world and each other.
Our second faculty essay is from Sarah Cosgrove, Associate Professor of Economics and College of Arts and Sciences Assessment Coordinator.
“I Believe in Opportunity Costs”
I believe in opportunity costs.
Economists define opportunity cost as the cost of something in terms of the next best alternative. Another way of stating the definition is the opportunity cost is what you must give up to get something else. I believe that every choice we make has an opportunity cost and that people make better choices when they explicitly consider the opportunity costs of their decisions.
When I finished my undergraduate degree, I chose to pursue a graduate degree rather than getting a job like most of my friends. As a graduate student, I lived on a tiny stipend, took out a small loan for living expenses not covered by my stipend, and I spent my days and nights learning, studying, thinking, writing, and running a lot to process all that was going on in my brain. At the same time, my friends were working and earning money, going to happy hours with co-workers, meeting spouses, getting married, and having babies. It would seem to an outsider that I was giving up a lot to pursue my goal of a Ph.D. in economics, but I made a conscious choice to temporarily give those things up because their value was lower than the value of what I was getting. That choice paid off, as I now have the career that I desired and the family that I hoped for. But I did have to choose. I could not have successfully completed my Ph.D. while also working a full time job and enjoying all of the social events that my friends enjoyed. By thinking about my options and weighing the relative costs and benefits, I felt good about my choice rather than dwelling on the things I was forgoing.
From whether to sleep in or get up and go to class, to what percentage of your income to save for retirement, every choice has an opportunity cost. If you stop and think about what you are giving up to get something else, you just might make a different decision. While lying there snuggled under your blankets hearing the cold wind whip through the trees, sleeping in might seem like an obvious choice. But if you think about what you will miss out on learning and the fact that you will have to learn the material on your own later, the value of staying in bed might not seem so great.
You are entering a time in your lives during which you will make many choices, large and small. Some decisions will affect your friendships, your current financial situation, your future financial situation, and your career. I encourage you to consider what you must give up to get something else. If you take on three part-time jobs to pay for school, will you have enough time to study and succeed in school? Next time you make a choice to do something, stop and think for a moment about what will you be giving up. Is it worth it?
Our third essay comes from Cynthia Cummings, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
“I Believe in Campus Activism”
I saw my father cry for the first time when I was 17. It was May 4th 1970. I was just about to graduate from high school. I would enter college in September. What happened that day was unimaginable. Twenty-eight members of the Ohio National Guard fired 61 bullets into a crowd of Vietnam War protesters, killing four unarmed college students and injuring nine others on the campus of Kent State University. The nation was stunned. My father was devastated.
My family was well acquainted with protest and activism. We witnessed the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. We saw dogs and fire hoses turned on black people who marched for basic rights such as access to public facilities and voting rights. My father, a Lincoln Republican, worked for fair housing and educational equity in Indianapolis. He negotiated a truce between the city and its black citizens that prevented the kind of riots that had erupted in Watts, Philadelphia, and Newark. My mother, an accomplished fundraiser, organized events that supported charities that served the black community. My little sister marched against hunger and, with our parents’ blessing, refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school to protest our country’s involvement in the war. We lived with the frustration, anger, and sadness that come with being members of an oppressed group. But we believed that we could make great changes in our society if we worked hard enough and long enough. We believed in the American system and held on to hope that the dream of “liberty and justice for all” would come true someday.
But on May 4, 1970, my father lost some of that hope. While we watched the reports of the Kent State shootings on TV, he shouted through his tears, “These are kids!” “These are white kids!” They are kids exercising their right to free speech!” And then he said, “If our government will silence white kids on a college campus, who won’t it silence?” In my bewilderment, I couldn’t respond. But somehow I knew that I would never let anyone silence me.
In September, I enrolled at Indiana University. The Bloomington campus had been a hotbed of protest and activism for several years. After Kent State, it became much quieter. While a student, I discovered feminism and worked for women’s and gay rights. I joined the Lesbian Liberation Organization. I spoke in classes and served on panels. I protested at events that objectified and demeaned women. As a Resident Assistant, I became immersed in the work of eliminating the “Isms”—racism, sexism, and heterosexism. In graduate school I studied College Student Personnel Administration specifically so that I could do “the work” with future generations of students.
After college for many years, I continued the work—reading, writing, speaking, marching, and representing in the name of equality for gay and lesbian folks. As a student affairs professional, I have advised many student activists and protesters. Students have organized Take Back the Night Marches, sit-ins to improve race relations, demonstrations against Apartheid, Days of Silence, Earth Day celebrations, and so much more. Recently, I have cheered as UMass Dartmouth students have insisted that “Black Lives Matter.”
I believe in campus activism. I believe that college campuses should serve as catalysts for social change. I believe that engaging in activism facilitates student learning, engagement, and development. If one of the roles of college is to develop civically-minded, socially responsible adults, then campus activism must be valued and supported. As educators, we have a responsibility to teach students to speak up and speak out. We must teach students the importance of engaging actively in the political process. We must teach them that when it comes to social change, as “kids on a college campus,” they must not be silenced.
This I believe.
Our final faculty/staff essay comes to us from Lt. John Souza of the UMassD police department
“This I believe”…the biggest problem we face in the police profession today is TRUST.
We can’t ignore the recent fallout and violence that has occurred all over the United States. It can no longer be business as usual and there should be a sense of urgency about this.
There is a very real perception in black communities that the police are making decisions based on bias, and as a result, these communities are angry with the police and don’t trust us. Combine these perceptions with the terrible actions of some officers that we’ve seen on the news who have not only damaged the police image, but destroyed lives too. There’s much work to be done, and the police should be willing to engage, listen, and understand, and not only after a controversial incident. Police should be transparent with community leaders and willing to share their organizational commitment to training specific to racial profiling, and with aspects of use of force issues.
A difficult fact of our profession is that when we make a mistake it could cost a life, including our own; it’s a very unique, stressful, and highly scrutinized profession, as well it should be. The responsibilities that are placed on police officers are great; I learned this fact 18 years ago while in the police academy. I can recall thinking that there’s so much to learn, so much to remember, yet so little time to make a final decision during a real life encounter. Most people will never experience these challenges. It made me think that the historical, age old discussion that the police have had with youngsters about the dangers of “talking to strangers” should probably change in ways to reflect the huge responsibilities of the job, the fears, the inherent dangers, and the amount of knowledge you need acquire about state and federal laws. I also learned early on, that despite good and honorable intentions, you will at times be responding to help people who dislike the very sight of you and what you stand for. Learning to have thick skin is one thing, but changing perceptions is quite different.
Like so many police officers, I’m frustrated with the perceptions out there and realize there is no quick and easy fix. The problem is much too big to fix alone, but we can’t sit idle and distance ourselves; we have to be thinking about changing perceptions and this is going to take time, collaborative partnerships, and strategy. Now, more than ever when it’s most difficult, we need to reach out to our communities and utilize the basic concept of the TRUST model for community policing in an effort to solve problems, and to rebuild TRUST one interaction at a time. Here it is:
Transparency: In our strategic planning, communicating with our community, with citizen complaints…
Respect: For our community members, for ourselves, for the profession, and to earn it every day we wear the uniform…
Understanding: Differences, perceptions, perspectives, emotions, and to be willing to explain aspects of our job…
Solutions: Finding innovative ways to solve community problems, being open to community input. We need to listen more.
Together: Becoming part of the fabric of the community and collaborating with stakeholders to identify and solve problems to improve the quality of life. This is community policing…
With every opportunity that presents itself, we must demonstrate competence and earn trust. We should never lose sight that the same community that gives us the power that comes with the badge is the same community that we must strive to earn trust from each day we wear the uniform. It’s critical that we are proactive in our philosophy of policing.
“I believe in the integrity of our UMDPD officers, I believe in a meaningful partnership with our community, and I believe we can do great things together that will make a difference in the lives of our number one customer, our students”.
Stay safe everyone,
Lt. John Souza
UMass Dartmouth Police