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The Liberal Arts: Preparing for What Comes Next

Today, pundits and politicians opine about how society needs more entrepreneurs and fewer philosophers, more engineers and fewer art historians. In an age dominated by fast-moving technologies, the liberal arts come under fire from many directions.

But the truth is that, for entrepreneurs and art historians alike, a liberal arts education is the best possible life foundation—the best toolkit for grasping and shaping today’s complex world.

This insight emboldens us. A grounding in the arts and sciences builds on yesterday and today to open doors to tomorrow. It prepares our students for what comes next—no matter what comes next.

Some of our chemistry majors become world-class chemists, and some of our art history majors emerge as distinguished curators, museum administrators, or professors of art history. But many CAS graduates ultimately make their careers outside their undergraduate fields of study. They become leaders: doctors, lawyers, teachers, inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, and diplomats.

The common thread: all have learned to look at the world through a distinctive lens. Drawing on the breadth and depth of the liberal arts—in the classroom, in the lab, or in the field—they understand how to look at a problem from a dozen different angles and perspectives. They have learned to find and marshal the evidence, understand it in context, and take a next step forward. They understand what it means to be an ethical thinker and to make tough decisions informed by values.

And perhaps without realizing it, they have become lifelong learners.

All of this means connecting the liberal arts to the world we live in now, through hands-on, experiential learning—in the field, across the country, or overseas. It means that the liberal arts are timeless, continuing, and permanent as the foundation for what happens next.

CAS and priorities for today’s world

Our premise: we contribute to the world through faculty who daily ponder and explore humanity’s greatest needs, as they prepare our students to build their careers and solidify their own contributions to the world. This work is always underway at CAS. We are already deploying digital resources to accelerate our research and scholarship; focusing on the big problems that affect human life around the globe; enhancing the humanities; and providing scholarship support for our students.

Now we want to do more. We want to further reinforce the amazing energy and passion that our students bring to CAS, and channel that energy and passion more effectively. Through our research and scholarship, we want to immerse ourselves even more deeply in on-the-ground realities, so we can pose the right questions to our students. To support that virtuous circle (that cycle of events or incidents, each having a positive effect on the next), we need more than ever to recruit the best faculty and students—which translates into a need for more research support and financial aid.

We want to redouble these efforts at a time when nothing is standing still. Knowledge is exploding, and ideas are blossoming.

Finally, amid all this change, we want to stay true to our fundamental values, and we have to set priorities that reflect those values. This is the opportunity that is in front of us now: to make strategic decisions about where to invest in people, programs, and facilities.

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