Can St. Kate’s be called a liberal arts institution?

I have always wanted to be a writer; I have wanted to be the creator of stories that people will love just as I have loved books my whole life. To become a writer, I figured I should probably major in English, and so my college search necessarily led me to the liberal arts, and thus to St. Kate’s. St. Kate’s offered a place where the liberal arts made up the core of the curricula, which to me meant that I would get a more diverse experience than if I went somewhere that taught me only to be a writer. In many ways St. Kate’s has done just that, given me a little experience in many different areas of study, making me a more well-rounded student.

Our Lady of Victory Chapel.

Our Lady of Victory Chapel.

However, across campus, especially in the dwindling humanities, St. Kate’s is moving away from the liberal arts focus, which it claims in its mission statement, and turning more toward the sciences.  The plan for the new science building as a part of the St. Kate’s 2020 Vision has brought this division into sharper relief in the eyes of some. I spoke with students from both the science fields and the arts and humanities fields to see where people’s opinions fell on the question of St. Kate’s as a liberal arts institution.

Sara Logeais ’16, a Music and Musical Therapy double major, said, “I think it depends on what your major is. For example, I think that Music, Art, English, and History majors receive a liberal arts education but science majors do not, at least to the same degree.”

Brittany Craig ’16, a Math and Applied Physics major, disagreed.

“I feel that I have had the opportunity to take courses in many areas unrelated to my fields which has exposed me to different styles of learning and information,” Craig said. “The number of liberal arts requirements we have to make is large in comparison with other schools and I feel that it has made me a well-rounded person.”

Alexandra Kennedy, who graduated last spring with a major in Biology and minors in Psychology and Spanish, agreed, citing the many opportunities at St. Kate’s.

“Research, for instance, within many disciplines and departments, is strongly supported, and I think this is a very valuable way for students to get involved in areas that aren’t necessarily in their major,” Kennedy said.

On the other hand, Ashley Skwiera, a second year graduate student in the MLIS program, who also completed her undergrad at St. Kate’s, felt that “The focus at SCU seems to be greatly in the interests of the sciences, while liberal arts as a whole is seen as an afterthought.”

I think that the apparent pattern of those in the humanities seeing St. Kate’s as not having a liberal arts focus comes from the perception that the liberal arts descriptor encompasses only the non-scientific fields. However, according to Webster’s Dictionary liberal arts are defined as “The subjects of an academic college course, including literature, philosophy, languages, history, and usually, survey courses, as distinguished from professional or technical subjects.” So in fact, the sciences can be seen as part of the liberal arts curriculum.

I believe the important point to be considered is the difference between a liberal arts education and a professional education which trains one for a specific profession such as the nursing or physician’s assistant (PA) programs. The St. Kate’s website lists the four schools that exist within the university as: the School of Business and Professional Studies, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences, the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health and the School of Social Work. Of the four, only the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences can be seen as falling within the category of “liberal arts.” The preference for the professional programs can further be seen in the expansion of the nursing and PA programs, such as remodeling the fourth floor of Whitby for exclusive use by the PA students, while other programs such as French and Geography are diminished.

With three quarters of the university’s schools catering to professional studies, can St. Kate’s really be defined as a liberal arts school?

Emma Scagnelli ’16, a Classical Archaeology major, addressed this apparent imbalance within the university.

“There’s nothing wrong with focusing our time and resources on things like professional degrees, certifications, and our nursing program, but it’s misleading to students who want to come here to seriously pursue a liberal arts degree and find that the college just can’t help them.”

Ultimately I think that Scagnelli brings up a valid point. While St. Kate’s has a rich interdisciplinary curricula, if the institution wants to move more into the fields of public health and other professional programs, perhaps it is time to redefine what is at the core of the university.

Comments are closed.