DRAFT Principles of a Liberal Arts & Sciences Education

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Submitted by the Department Liaison Group, 11-10-16

College of Arts & Sciences: Principles of a Liberal Arts & Sciences Education

Students who enter Cornell’s College of Arts & Science should be ready to engage with the breadth of inquiry characteristic of a liberal education. The Arts & Sciences curriculum should be transformative: students who enter as consumers of information should leave as producers of knowledge. Graduates should be critical and inquisitive readers; capable writers; thinkers who can examine and reason from evidence and embark on challenging paths of inquiry.

Students should claim their education. A broad and deep education should encourage creativity, open-mindedness, intellectual agility, and engagement with the wider world. The curriculum should encourage students to remain curious and learn to be skeptical. Students should expect education to be challenging. They should stretch themselves intellectually and engage with new and startling ideas. What they learn may be unsettling: it may change what they know and think they should know. Students may change their minds about what they believe is important, and what they want to do with their lives. 

While the Arts & Sciences curriculum should provide students with skills and experiences that will be valuable in future careers, the curriculum should encourage students to think beyond one field of study, mode of inquiry, or career path. Their studies should help them embrace the liberal arts and sciences as a path towards becoming lifelong learners, capable of reflecting about their own education; their place in the world; and the place of others, including people whose life histories and experiences may be very different from their own. These habits of mind should help graduates engage with the communities, local and global, they will be part of.

Curricular Expectations that Support these Principles

  • Students should become literate in multiple modes of inquiry: scientific, quantitative, social scientific, humanistic, and expressive. Students should take courses that practice each of these modes, separately or in combination.
  • Specialization should not come at the expense of breadth. Arts & Sciences students should gain knowledge and expertise in a range of fields and disciplines.
  • Students should gain significant understanding about the past and the wider world.
  • Students at a research university should have direct experience with research and/or scholarly inquiry.
  • Students should become proficient in at least one foreign language. Students’ engagement with the world will be limited if they can only engage in English.
  • Students should write their way through the Arts & Sciences curriculum. Writing should help students learn about course material and demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Students should engage with local communities beyond the boundaries of the university.
  • Students should have educational experiences distinctive to Cornell, Ithaca, and the region. Resources specific to Cornell include: artifacts in libraries, galleries, the museum, and other collections; opportunities to engage with the performing arts; academic opportunities connected to Cornell’s land grant mission; work in labs or field sites; and experiences that introduce students to the history and landscape of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes.