Redefining the role of liberal arts in college education

There is broad agreement that the liberal arts have an important role to play in a modern college education. Just what that role should be, however, is a matter of considerable debate.

Georgian is hosting a national conference on Sept. 20 and 21 to facilitate that debate. Beyond Soft Skills: Redefining the Role of the Liberal Arts in a College Education will be hosted at the Barrie Campus.

“We live in an age in which it’s increasingly difficult to justify a liberal arts education without showing how it serves purely instrumental ends, or how it can contribute to the economic bottom line,” said Dr. Scott Staring, one of the conference organizers and a Liberal Arts professor at Georgian. “This is maybe especially so in the college setting, where the emphasis is already on developing practical or technical skills.”

Staring added that the conference is an attempt to broaden the discussion and consider what ends a liberal arts education might serve beyond those which can be instrumentalized or monetized.

“There’s a lot of interesting work being done in college liberal arts departments across the province, but because of the more vocational focus of the college system, this work sometimes gets overlooked,” he said. “This is an opportunity for liberal arts faculty to share what they are doing with others.”

The conference will bring together many bright minds and experienced teachers who have thought seriously about this matter and provide a unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the role the liberal arts play—and can play—in our lives.

There are 28 scheduled presenters – a blend of college and university liberal arts professors. “We also have several other people who are just coming to join in the discussion,” said Staring. “Many are from the college sector, but we’re also hoping to attract members of the larger Barrie community who are simply interested in the liberal arts, or in education more generally.”

Friday evening will include dinner at the Georgian Dining Room and a keynote address by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. Their best-selling book, The Slow Professor, has struck a nerve in Canada. “Their message speaks not just to professors but to anyone who is concerned with the speed of modern life,” said Staring. “And those who fear that our quality of existence is being undermined by the demands of technology, growing workloads, and the insistence on measurable outcomes.”

The conference runs from 4:45 to 8:15 p.m. on Friday and continues on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

For more information or to register, visit the event website.

Photo: Beyond Soft Skills: Redefining the Role of the Liberal Arts in a College Education will be hosted at the Barrie Campus. Maggie Berg is one of the keynote speakers.

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