UC MagazineUniversity of CincinnatiUC Magazine

UC Magazine

President's column

Liberal-arts education crucial

A 21st century imperative

by Nancy L. Zimpher, UC president

At a recent gathering with University of Cincinnati faculty, I talked about the nation's increasingly urgent need for students who embrace the science, technology and math fields. Report after report is focusing attention on our nation's widening gap, compared with other countries around the globe, in the so-called STEM disciplines. A faculty member in our McMicken College of Arts and Sciences politely asked if I was suggesting that there would be no more need for the liberal arts.

I would, in fact, emphatically suggest the opposite. Like many issues in higher education today, I don't view this as an "either/or" proposition. Behind every great 21st century professional -- be they scientist, politician, banker or information technologist -- stands a solid foundation of a liberal core education.

Just look at the variety of disciplines represented in this issue of UC Magazine, with its emphasis on alumni authors. No matter what their major field of study, all undoubtedly complemented their area of concentration as an undergraduate with a rich array of humanities, social science and natural science coursework that required students to exercise their writing and critical-thinking skills.

Our own McMicken College of Arts and Sciences can be looked upon as the "college of colleges" because of its centrality in the baccalaureate curriculum, especially for the professional schools such as DAAP, business, engineering, nursing and pharmacy. McMicken, after all, provides nearly 40 percent of all baccalaureate instruction at UC, no matter what the major.

Our times call for us to reinforce our commitment to liberal education, rather than back away from it, even in the face of growing STEM needs. To this end, I have recently been invited to serve on the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools and Colleges, an organization that works to focus national attention on the teaching and learning of writing.

As a university community, our UC|21 strategic vision recommits us to a strong liberal education core. As the recent Association of American Colleges and Universities report, Liberal Education Outcomes, points out, the attributes of a liberal education have long been shown to be essential components of success in life, career and community engagement.

In a rapidly changing world, liberal education becomes even more imperative. What else makes us adaptable to the demands of the "new" economy, whether it is the Knowledge Economy giving way to the Creative Economy or the Creative Economy transforming into what may follow?

Says David Kearns, former CEO of Xerox Corp., "The only education that prepares us for change is a liberal education. In periods of change, narrow specialization condemns us to inflexibility -- precisely what we do not need. We need the flexible intellectual tools to be problem solvers, to be able to continue learning over time."

According to the 2006 Job Outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top 10 personal qualities and skills that employers seek from college graduates are:

  1. Communication skills (both verbal and written)
  2. Honesty/integrity
  3. Teamwork skills
  4. Strong work ethic
  5. Analytical skills
  6. Flexibility/adaptability
  7. Interpersonal skills
  8. Motivation/initiative
  9. Computer skills
  10. Orientation to detail

This sounds a lot like the critical qualities that are nurtured by a strong liberal education.

No, now is not the time to weaken our resolve to create alumni who are well-rounded critical thinkers with solid writing and speaking skills. Partners, friends and alumni of UC can be assured that the liberal core remains central to the life and career success of our students and to the university's future.


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