Know thyself

John MuenzbergJohn Muenzberg

Column by John Muenzberg, Lecturer of humanities and fine arts

One benefit of a Murray State education is that graduates will have completed the University Studies Program, unfortunately known to many students as “some stupid courses I have to take.”

It can be frustrating to fit your class schedule to a seemingly arbitrary list of classes, but I think this program is arguably more important for your future success than your major.

Despite what some students may think, the University Studies Program is not a jobs program for liberal arts departments. It is an update of the modern liberal arts curriculum that defined college education in Great Britain and the U.S. through the 19th century.

Murray State, along with most U.S. colleges and universities, is based on a model called the “Modern Research University.” This model combines the goals of a traditional liberal arts colleges, technical and professional colleges and the German research university.

Why did educators combine liberal arts studies with technical or professional programs? Why do you need to study biology if you just want a job in accounting?

One straightforward response is that your goal should not be a “job in accounting,” but rather to become an “effective” or “successful” accountant. Basic employment is an external outcome that is fulfilled once the job offer is given. Becoming effective or successful can require a change in the way you think and the way you understand the world.

To be successful in your career includes analyzing your field, imagining and predicting changes, creating or adapting to new methods and communicating these ideas to others.

On April 23, 2015, CareerBuilder.com released a survey of 2,175 hiring professionals. Among the skills that employers are looking for are problem-solving, oral communication, written communication and creative thinking. These are the skills that a liberal arts curriculum develops.

Why do we require the University Studies Program if your goal is to be an accountant? Because this will make you a better accountant.

Of the ten characteristics of a Murray State graduate, nine are general skills that come from a liberal arts education, just one is mastery of your filed of study.

This is an effective argument for the liberal arts, but I do not think it is the best one.

Your goal in life should not be to just be a better employee. While you need a career and you need to pay off those loans, presumably the goal of this career is to live a good life.

One of the most basic goals of a liberal arts education is for you to better understand the world at large, including yourself, other people, our society, our country, even our species.

While the faculty are concerned with getting you that first job, they are also concerned with you as citizens and as voters, as spouses and parents. Your primary goal should not be to serve your employer well; it should be to develop into a full and complete person, one that understands more than just how to generate profits for a corporation.

We live in a world full of questions, that are explained through many disciplines. You have to navigate this world, make decisions and try to prosper.

To get a job requires some technical training. To have a successful career, to be a conscientious citizen and informed voter, to live in a community with others, and to live a fulfilling life requires exposure to the fundamental concepts in many different disciplines.

One of the most effective ways of achieving this is through a liberal arts curriculum.