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The Seven Questions: Answers to Question One

In his first question, the Dean wondered what UCR’s approach to Liberal Arts and Sciences could be seen as, how it differs from other University Colleges and whether we should choose to follow their lead or whether we rather choose to improve upon our tried and tested UCR approach. In the past week we have received five answers, in the form of short essays, from students outlining their opinion. We have filtered similar and different points from these essays in the three sections below:

How do other University Colleges do it?

An article published by the University College Student Representatives of the Netherlands last week together with an article by the Alumni Connection, UCU’s alumni blog, provide us with a good starting point on what the different Dutch University Colleges actually do . No submission has defined (or tried to) define what Liberal Arts and Sciences constitutes. Merriam Webster defines Liberal Arts (without the sciences) as “an area of study that is intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession”. Looking at the history of Liberal Arts, we see that Curtius (1948) and Castle (1969) both identify the ‘free person’ as the core of Liberal Arts education. Modern day Liberal Arts education nuances that idea in two ways: it is either one area of study such as social sciences or natural sciences or as a broad education in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities combined in a ‘liberal arts degree program’ as Harvard University offers.

From our responses and some additional research we see that half of the Dutch University Colleges offer a LAS program with a flavor (flavor programs). In Rotterdam they like their LAS with a sprinkle of economics, management and business administration. Amsterdam likes to top their broad LAS program off with some science. Leiden likes a sauce of world problems over their LAS while Twente likes to mush LAS together with technology and it’s interaction with humans. The other half (Utrecht, Middelburg, Groningen and Maastricht) have a program similar to the Harvard Liberal Arts and Sciences program where they offer a wide range of subjects from all academic fields (Harvard programs).

What are similarities and differences between those and UCR’s approach?

All colleges have a concept related to a specialization. Some call this a major, others a concentration. The idea of specializing in a particular field is found in all programs. In the flavor programs more emphasis is put on this specialization in contrast to the Harvard programs. Flavor programs are different from most regular Dutch programs in the sense that they are still broad and focus on a theme instead of a profession.

Marije Sluiskes argues the following: “In my opinion, the thematic UCs cannot be considered true Liberal Arts and Sciences colleges. That doesn’t mean this is a weakness for either them or us: their core educational philosophy is simply different. And this difference is exactly where UCR’s strength lies: we offer a wide range of courses in many disciplines.”
Another contribution points out the traditional division of the world in social sciences, natural sciences and humanities is reflected in most programs. The contributor continues: “within these divisions there are differences between the colleges though. UCR is leading in it’s offering of more specialized courses in music. UCR has extended their humanities department with the fine arts program. UCR also focuses on the educational sciences with the new education program. UCR also has a pre-medical program.” Some might argue that UCR should, because of these many programs, flavor UC. Others argue that, because these programs are specializations in different divisions, UCR is still a Harvard UC.

What should we do?

With all this background information, the question remains what UCR should do.

Marije: “Therefore, we must aim to attract those students that have a true interdisciplinary interest. Students that have a strong interest in politics or the environment to start with, are more likely to choose for a thematic LAS. UCR should not even try to compete with that. Our strength lies in the fact that we offer all disciplines and do not differentiate in their importance. This ensures a vibrant community where all kinds of voices and opinions are heard. In a discussion about sustainability, UCR’s students can discuss both the societal point of view and the chemical point of view, to name just one possibility.” She continues by nuancing her statement: “However, simply having a wide range of courses in all sorts of disciplines is not enough. The quality of the education itself is perhaps even more important. And that is the true challenge for such a small college as UCR: the choice not to focus on one theme, but rather to give all disciplines equal space clashes with the quality of education at times. To stand out from the crowd, UCR must stress that she is both a traditional LAS college and make sure that she has an excellent quality of education. (In my opinion, this second point currently deserves more attention than the first). With these two points, UCR will attract the truly motivated and dedicated students with a wide range of interest.”

Aimah takes a stance in the middle, arguing in favor of experimentation: “Personally I do feel that if it is possible, UCR should consider launching a pilot project to test the other approaches (or try out a completely new one) the Dean speaks of, to see how it works. Because I feel we, as humans, once we find a method that works for us, quite often stop innovating in that field. Its why we humans still power our cars with an engine that is a hundred years old and gives us an efficiency of only 18-20%. It is also why after inventing the zipper over a century ago we have not looked into newer more efficient technology in the field of automatic clothing closing as much as we should have. ”

None of our contributors argued that UCR should radically change it’s Harvard program to a more flavor oriented program. Do you think UCR should still do so? Let us know via j.seib@ucr.nl!

Jonathan Seib, Class of 2016, is a Law and Computer Science major from Hoofddorp, the Netherlands.

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