January/February, 2003


The Civic Renewal of a Liberal Education

By Theodore E. Long
From a August 24, 2000 convocation address at the college

In his address, Elizabethtown College President Theodore E. Long calls the expansion of professional programs and the decline of the traditional liberal arts a "sea change" that reflects the successful expansion of higher education in the United States. He calls for "[r]ebuilding liberal education on a new touchstone of civic purpose" that will make it once again central to a college education and will bolster both faculty work and student learning.

Once the foundation of a good education, the liberal arts have become a set of academic disciplines unto themselves, Long says. Calls to "protect" the liberal arts from professional education or to guarantee their historic place in the academy "run against the tide of history," according to Long, and will invariably fail. Instead, he advocates that liberal education being integrated into all aspects of modern education and infused with a civic purpose. This, he believes, is the best way for liberal education to remain relevant in a larger social context and once again become a central part of higher education.

Long asserts that the term liberal education should not be confined to a certain set of disciplines. "All disciplines," he argues, "can find a home for their expertise in the house of civic purpose." Embracing the civic obligation of liberal education, Long writes, would lead to the integration of the liberal arts in professional programs rather than being "sequestered" in an early general education curriculum after which students move on to professional study. He says that the integration of the liberal arts will make them more attractive to everyone, make scholarship relevant for the general population, and will ultimately renew the mission of higher education.

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