The liberal arts have received sharp media scrutiny lately, and the value of such an education in today’s world is clearly at issue. In recent years, universities and colleges have developed specialized programs specific to different career paths, all theoretically designed to equip students with the requisite skills to seamlessly merge into the workforce upon graduation.
So, why should students study history, literature, philosophy, theology, or music at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU)? Why study a subject that does not train for a specific job? Why study biology when you will never be a scientist? Why study logic when you want to go into business? Is there really any point to a Bachelor of Arts?
Lately, students and educators alike have ceased to view a skillset like a toolbox that can be applied to a variety of problems; instead, we now view every problem as needing a specific tool.
Nonetheless, a 2013 survey of 320 business leaders by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 74 per cent recommend a modern liberal arts education for a more dynamic worker. Many employers report ranking skills honed through a liberal arts education at the top of their list for hiring.
Sharp critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective oral and written communication, research, and the ability to create content are all universally relevant skills, and key outcomes of a liberal arts education. This is true for a liberal arts schooling at any university; however, students get a value-added education at CMU which makes the experience unique.
Biblical and Theological Studies
CMU’s required Biblical and Theological Studies (BTS) minor is the first of three marked differences between our university and others. CMU encourages students of all faith backgrounds, including those who claim none, to dialogue peacefully together and build mutual understanding. These courses help students to become more aware of the depth and complexity of the Christian faith, enabling those who attend to engage in their churches on a deeper level, and offer students outside the church a fuller understanding of what Christianity is really about.
We like to use the phrases “be challenged” and “learn to see differently,” because that is what CMU is all about.
The second difference is “integrative” studies. Before students conclude their studies at CMU, they are required to take two cross-discipline courses that explore the mosaic of knowledge around a theological centre in service. Examples from this past academic year include New Testament Economics, Chaos Theory, and Film, Faith and Popular Culture.
CMU’s practicum program is a third defining difference. All students are required to complete six credit hours of practicum – a hands-on, experience-based work opportunity. Practicums vary widely, from a post at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where a student was directly involved in 2013’s highly successful 100 Masters exhibit, to a placement with the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities that led to employment for a psychology student. All students benefit from this opportunity to learn through real-life situations.
Other practicums have reached beyond local organizations and taken students to locations like Cuba, Uganda, and Guatemala, which translated into wider worldviews and understanding.
Our alumni are the proof that learning through thinking and doing, while being challenged to see differently, creates great results. CMU’s liberal arts approach, in which students learn through integrative thinking and practical application, creates versatile, highly employable graduates equipped to make a difference in their community and the world.