At a recent meeting of our college Advisory Council, an alumnus participating in a discussion on communications suggested that our college has one simple message to convey: “A liberal arts education is the best education for anyone aspiring to be a leader.”
He was paraphrasing our global affairs expert Jeremi Suri, who at a previous council meeting observed that the liberal arts, more than any other discipline, prepared students for leadership because it exposed them to the complex ways in which various issues relate to one another in the real world. When we inspire our students to think critically and to analyze situations from multiple perspectives, we also inspire qualities of selflessness and a sense of duty—the very essence of a successful leader.
Liberal arts students become successful leaders because we engage them in diverse experiences as well as ideas. We strongly encourage our students to participate in research, internships, campus organizations and study abroad opportunities because we know these real-world experiences impart knowledge and skills one can only learn by doing.
Some studies suggest that more than a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts backgrounds, and more of them hold liberal arts B.A.s than professional degrees. The same is true for doctors and lawyers. Last year, when Google executive Marissa Mayer said that her company expected to hire 6,000 new employees, she noted that 4,000 to 5,000 of those hires would be liberal arts majors. I needn’t look beyond my own office to find proof: One of our student employees, Molly Wahlberg—a Liberal Arts Honors alumna with a Master’s in Latin American Studies—was recently hired by Google in large part because of her liberal arts background and her working experience as an intern.
Writing in the Huffington Post this past July, Edward Ray, the president of Oregon State University, noted “In today’s global economy, most people will have six to 10 jobs during their careers, and liberal arts majors are the most adaptable to new circumstances. No one knows what the jobs of the future will be, but a liberal arts degree provides a great foundation for adjusting to new careers and further education.”
As employment patterns continue to change rapidly, liberal arts alumni need to engage friends and family as well as our leaders and the general public on the value of a liberal arts degree. Our future as a nation will depend on our ability to provide strong and ethical leaders in all sectors of society, to uphold Thomas Jefferson’s vision of educating citizens and leaders to understand the meaning of liberty and to exercise it wisely.
As we prepare tomorrow’s leaders, we endeavor to live up to this vision. The late Bill Livingston, a former government professor and chair in our college, profoundly understood the importance of leadership to our nation and society. We are fortunate to have a series of lecture videos, recorded by our college in 2005, of Professor Livingston speaking on the origins of the U.S. Constitution. If you are a former student of his, or if you are interested in knowing more about U.S. history, I encourage you to go to our website and watch these videos. They are entertaining, informative and a fitting tribute to a great teacher who truly understood the value of leadership.
Randy L. Diehl, Dean
David Bruton, Jr. Regents Chair in Liberal Arts