The Emory University 2013-2014 Commission on the Liberal Arts (CoLA) recently submitted its final report to Emory University Provost Claire E. Sterk, marking the end of the year-long process that addressed the state of Emory’s liberal arts community. Through forums, lunches, a survey and other methods of engagement, the final report deliberated on and made a series of recommendations on how best to further the liberal arts on campus and in the culture of Emory. However, we at the Wheel find that, while the report offers several positive, specific and engaging recommendations for improving the state of the liberal arts on campus, many of the suggestions offered by CoLA are often too vague and do not go far enough.
Suggestions such as a reevaluation of the academic calendar or the creation of interdisciplinary “synthesis seminars” are valuable to the community and worthy of consideration. Reevaluating the academic calendar is a concrete, bold step that could meaningfully impact a student’s academic experience, where they could potentially participate in courses of variable length (other than a semester) that would make different disciplines and topics more accessible. Additionally, with its potential interdisciplinary, communal learning structure, CoLA’s “synthesis seminars” could reach the foundation of what we feel liberal arts aims to achieve.
CoLA’s emphasis on faculty-student mentorship is also essential – the impact a single faculty member can have on a student as an educator or mentor is invaluable. CoLA gives appropriate attention to this matter because Emory’s current advisor system is deeply flawed. Students are often paired with faculty advisors in departments in which they have no interest, and partially as a result, many students do not feel they can take advantage of the system. By more closely assessing the coordination and avenues in which faculty and students can develop closer relationships, CoLA accurately prioritizes areas for improvement within the University.
However, absent from the report is a personal investigation or exploration of the role of the liberal arts by CoLA, even though the report rightly encourages the Emory community to discuss that question further. After its intensive discussions and engagements, CoLA should have participated in its own exploration of its vision of Emory’s liberal arts definitions and values, applying this vision to specific disciplines and academic departments.
But they are generic suggestions that might be offered to any school concerned with its liberal arts and do not offer concrete suggestions to create the “leading residential liberal arts research university” that is envisioned by CoLA. CoLA’s suggestions do not necessarily cater to the specific environment of our University.
We hope the University decides to implement many of these engaging, concrete recommendations, but Emory should also take CoLA’s advice and engage further in a discussion about the state of liberal arts at the College, and what the term “liberal arts” means to Emory.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.