Provost Cordle discusses liberal arts education with Regents

December 19, 2014

Skills learned and traits honed in liberal arts college courses are used by students throughout their lives, according to Emporia State’s David Cordle.

As part of a four-person panel, Cordle, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Emporia State, on Thursday shared his views with and answered questions from the Kansas Board of Regents about the role of liberal arts education, which is intended to give students general knowledge rather than to develop skills for a specific profession. The “liberal arts” encompass basic study of visual and performing arts, the humanities, social sciences and mathematics and science.

“The arts train us not only to be practitioners of the art discipline,” Cordle said. “The arts also develop transferable skills — core skills, if you will — that everyone needs.”

These skills include critical thinking, communication, discipline and problem solving.

Cordle’s role on the panel was to discuss degree programs in the visual and performing arts. His academic background is in music, specifically piano performance. He earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in this field. Eventually he moved into higher education administration.

“What I studied in music,” Cordle told the board, “I use those skills every day.”

Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the University of Kansas, organized the panel, which also included Danny Anderson, dean of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to speak about courses in the humanities and social sciences and Chris Crawford, provost at Fort Hays State University, to talk about general education curriculum, which presents liberal arts courses to all students regardless of their major or intended career path.

Gary Alexander, KBOR’s vice president for academic affairs, presented data to the board that showed people with bachelor’s degrees earn more over a lifetime than high school graduates. And many students who earn bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts go on to pursue graduate degrees in professional fields.

Historically, Alexander told the board, ancient Greeks considered “liberal arts” to be grammar, rhetoric and logic. During medieval times, these were expanded to include arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Today, liberal arts education encompasses literature, languages, philosophy, history, music, art, mathematics and science.

“Liberal arts really are the core of the university,” Cordle explained, “with professional areas of study rotating around the core.”

Depending on the university, these professional areas might be education, business, law and engineering.

In fact, Cordle said, when students declare a major in a liberal arts discipline, their career options aren’t limited to a specific job. Liberal arts graduates end up in all kinds of careers.

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