Liberal Arts constitute not just a corpus of knowledge but a way of looking at that knowledge in a way that is holistic and global rather than narrow and overly scholastic. This twenty-first century revival of the Liberal Arts does not come from within the academy, but rather in response to the expressed needs of employers for broadly educated employees.
In India, there are unique challenges in introducing a true Liberal Arts curriculum in a university. First, no Indian faculty member who has done either BA or BS in India has been exposed to any version of the Liberal Arts on a collegiate level. Taking courses in standards IX and X are not a viable substitute for the higher order intellectual exposure that is part of a university education. Second, the problem can be compounded in fields such as design fine arts, or engineering where students can be educated not at a university but at an institute where their course of study is usually even more focused and more regimented than at a university affiliated multi-discipline college. Third, the +2 streaming process which clearly identifies the ‘Liberal Arts’ as the least desired stream for students has created the very real concerns and prejudices that we have seen in parents of our perspective students about the value of ‘diluting’ our professional programmes with unnecessary and distracting ‘frivolity’.
While the Kapil Sibals, Sam Pitrodas, and Sashi Tharoors have been preaching the importance of adding the Liberal Arts to all fields of Indian higher education, I have not heard an echoing drum roll from employers. Until employers not only start to talk about valuing this type of education but start to hire graduates who have mastered this new concept, parental and student resistance will likely continue at a high level.
Fortunately, some progressive employers have begun to do this and some of the ‘Corpoversities’ are gearing up to deliver a Liberal Arts based curriculum to their new employees. But, no one in India is anywhere near Apeejay Stya University’s accomplishment in this critical field.
Creating a system which relies on truly dedicated liberal arts courses that are distributed among broad categories that conform to the classic epistemologically recognized pillars of the Liberal Arts (Arts and Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Biological, Physical and Mathematical Sciences would put our students at the forefront of liberal arts pedagogy and would allow students to plan their course selections more rationally.
So what can our faculty either as an individual or collectively do to make this come to be?
We can have two or more faculty from different academic fields team-teach an existing course thereby broadening the scope of the course and exposing students to different perspectives on issues.
Another approach can involve linked courses with common enrollments. This arrangement works best when a common theme or series of themes can be agreed to by either an entire university or by major units within a university. Often linked courses are supplemented by co-curricular activities that also bear on the chosen theme.
This will result in better educated graduates who will go further and rise higher as the country prospers.
By Dr. Joel M. Rodney, Dean (Academics), Apeejay Stya University
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