Amid Focus on Science Literacy and Business Ed, Liberal Arts Blossoms

By John O. Harney

“Science courses belong in the liberal arts curriculum for the benefit of both science and non-science majors.”

That’s one of the main findings in a study released by the Cambridge, Mass.-based American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Science and the Educated American: A Core Component of Liberal Education warns that the pace of scientific and technological change means all adults should be prepared to learn and evaluate new science information after they leave schooling.

Among the report’s major themes:

  • Without a basic level of scientific literacy, the public cannot rely on even the best science journalism and communications to help them make informed decisions about science issues.
  • Science courses belong in the liberal arts curriculum for the benefit of both science and non-science majors.
  • Teaching science should convey the wonders and rewards of science but also the limits of science and dangers of misapplying it.
  • Science and the humanities have much more in common than is generally appreciated.

In June, I was at an orientation for a major New England university where one speaker was extolling the non-careerist aspect of liberal arts, noting with a wink: “It’s not as if BP is going to go hire a vice president of philosophy … but maybe they should.”

The audience understood his wink. Philosophy is the discipline often invoked to flaunt the non-practical nature of the the liberal arts. And at the time, BP was spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and handling the blame badly.

The speaker, ironically, was a chemist.


About 10% of the Boston College Carroll School of Management (CSOM) Class of 2011 and 25% of the CSOM Class of 2012 are pursuing a double major or minor in a liberal arts field, according to The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper, which has been running a series on liberal arts.

The students pursuing a double major or minor in the liberal arts defy a national trend of students moving away from a liberal arts education toward concentration in a professional field. More than 20% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. in the 2006-07 academic year were business degrees, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

CSOM administrators observed that “other local colleges, such as Babson and Bentley, which are business-focused in their undergraduate education, incorporate relatively little of the liberal arts into the undergraduate education.”


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