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Liberal Arts at Yale: Becoming the Bastard Child?
Kim lauds College’s focus on liberal arts
College President Jim Yong Kim spoke about the importance of the liberal arts as part of the Faculty Chalk Talk Series on Saturday.
Aki Onda / The Dartmouth Staff
By Marina Villeneuve, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, October 11, 2010
The liberal arts — which face cutbacks across the country due to lack of funding and increasing emphasis on research over teaching — are essential to Dartmouth’s identity and deserve financial support, College President Jim Yong Kim said in a speech on Saturday.
Kim’s speech — punctuated by frequent applause from an audience composed mostly of alumni — was part of the Faculty Chalk Talk Series, in which faculty members lecture on topics in their fields of study on the mornings of home football games. Kim encouraged alumni to continue donating to maintain the College’s liberal arts tradition.
Wearing a Dartmouth pullover, Kim emphasized the continuing relevance and critical role of liberal arts to the traditional mission of the College, as well as his commitment to maintaining the College’s approach of providing small classes taught by cutting-edge, tenure-track faculty.
A “crisis of the liberal arts” has threatened the survival of humanities and arts departments in colleges and universities nationwide for years, Kim said.
Fewer then 100,000 of the 14 million students enrolled in U.S. institutes of higher education are enrolled in liberal arts colleges, Kim said. Research-based institutions, on the other hand, have experienced recent growth. Kim cited New York University, where he said adjunct faculty teach 70 percent of undergraduate courses.
“Humanities departments throughout the country are under siege,” Kim said. “People time and time again question the value of the humanities.”
Kim said his own appreciation for the arts came through his experiences as an anthropologist and physician improving health programs in countries around the world.
“My most vivid experience is the first time I visited Haiti in 1988,” he said. “We visited the poorest village in a rural community, and as we walked in, the children of the community walked towards us and sang us a beautiful song, and gave us some of the art they had been working on.”
The arts are a way to express political solidarity, preserve historical traditions and express personal experiences, Kim said. He showed the audience images of Native American “ledger art” and Korean traditional dance.
Kim also cited scientific justification for liberal arts education.
“Some may ask, ‘What does the arts actually teach us?’” Kim said. “Studies have shown it teaches you visual literacy, along with persistence, which educational studies show is one of the most critical habits of mind you can teach.”
Kim cited scientific data showing that music, performing and visual arts improve reading comprehension, critical writing and mathematical skills through the development of specific brain pathways. Magnetic resonance imaging scans reveal the differences in brain activity between performing arts majors and non-performing arts majors, according to Kim.
“We’re still at a very young age of this science, but it’s just fascinating how science is catching up with what we’ve known all along about the importance of the arts,” Kim said.
Kim discussed an “Ethics and Public Policy” class he recently attended — taught by government professor Lucas Swaine — as an example of the effectiveness of liberal arts at the College.
“Liberal arts works by having a brilliant professor in one small room presenting difficult questions to students, who by this kind of interaction grow intellectually everyday,” he said.
The “generous” donations of alumni are integral in “keeping alive the sacred mission,” Kim said, urging those alumni present to continue supporting the College.
“We never want to lose support for the arts,” he said. “We never want to be in a situation where we would even question, ‘Why should we teach arts at Dartmouth College?’”
At the end of his speech, Kim received a standing ovation, and many attendees praised his words.
“It was my first time to hear Jim Kim, and as a graduate of a liberal arts college, I was delighted to hear his discussion of how important it is to maintain such institutions,” Arlene Johnson, wife of Bob Johnson ’59, said. “Studying all these different disciplines, rather than just focusing on something specific, stays with you your entire life,”
The focus of the talk was well-directed towards the alumni composing the audience, attendees said.
“He did a good job of connecting with the alumni, especially in his ability to communicate what has remained constant at the College in relation to everything else going on in the world,” Tom Dooley, a former College employee, said.
Kim has given several prior speeches — including his convocation remarks in September — in support of the humanities and arts education. Kim had previously encountered concerns that arts and humanities education could wane under his administration, given his background as a global health leader and his work to build the Center for Health Care Delivery Science. Kim also drew criticism for an interview he gave with the Washington Post last year when, in quoting his father, he appeared to question the practical value of studying the humanities.