Should the Liberal Arts Resist Marketability?

by Denise Holladay Damico

Denise Holladay Damico is Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Saint Francis University (Pennsylvania). She has published on the environmental and legal history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. She is currently researching the cultural, environmental, and social history of the margarita.

Editors Note: This article is a response to  “Community Engagement for the Liberal Arts?” by William H.J. Strosnider

It is certainly correct to say that many of us in the liberal arts today are concerned about the future of our disciplines as they currently exist in the academy. College enrollments continue to decline, and small liberal arts colleges and liberal arts majors have been particularly hard-hit. Those students who do attend college are encouraged, quite reasonably, to choose majors with a clear vocational track – those majors that seem most likely to result in job opportunities that will enable them to pay back their often onerous student debt.

The rhetoric and outcome of the recent presidential election only exacerbate these concerns. The once unimaginable possibility of a return to loyalty tests and blacklists poses a grave threat to the liberal arts, while the president’s choice both of cabinet members and policies on education (at least those of which we are thus far aware) bode similarly ill.

It is, therefore, difficult to argue with the first of Dr. Strosnider’s premises – that those of us in the liberal arts must try something to “break out of this miasma of negativity.” It certainly also seems true that increased community engagement offers an important path forward, both to enhance the public’s awareness of the value of the liberal arts and to increase the number of college students who choose to major in liberal arts disciplines.

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Community Engagement for the Liberal Arts?

by William H.J. Strosnider

William H.J. Strosnider, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Center for Watershed Research and Service at Saint Francis University (Pennsylvania). His focus is water quality protection, wastewater treatment, and the integration of technical service and research projects into undergraduate programs.

Faculty lounges are rife with gloomy discussions about the demise of the academy, and more specifically, the liberal arts. Of course, that gloom is well founded given the trends that have been playing out for decades. However, one fruitful option would be for those in the liberal arts to break out of this miasma of negativity and blaze a new path of relevance via community engagement.

Parents of prospective liberal arts majors want to know answers to questions like “What will my child do after graduation?” and “For what career will this major prepare my child?” These questions are harder to answer for liberal arts than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) faculty because specific vocational training is not, and should not be expected to be, a significant part of a liberal arts major. Therefore, liberal arts faculty need new ways to address these questions because they are so critical to the enrollment in, and therefore viability of, their majors and institutions. Continue reading

Professor as Person of Faith: Transparency in Teaching

By Melanie Howard, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Fresno Pacific University


“Do you wear your hair like that for religious reasons?” a student asked me, after she had seen me with my hair styled in low bun for the first several weeks of class.

“No,” I replied with a smile, “I just don’t like having hair fall in my face.”

This unusual exchange led me to wonder whether and how a professor’s own religious commitments should overtly enter the classroom. As an Assistant Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, I cannot escape questions about religious identity in my classes. On the first day of class, I assure students that I do not grade on the basis of what they personally believe. Rather, I am interested in their ability to evaluate religious traditions critically and to consider the place of those traditions within contemporary culture.

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