Why Liberal Arts?

Hopkins Gate at Williams CollegeAmid a national conversation about the value of a college degree—and of the liberal arts specifically—Williams has launched a year-long effort to examine and discuss the educational experience it provides.

Why Liberal Arts? is an initiative of the Committee on Educational Policy that focuses on how students experience the liberal arts, how they make their way through the curriculum, and whether they are taking full advantage of all the college has to offer.

The committee—led by professor of art Peter Low and made up of seven faculty members, six students, and four staff members—focuses on the college curriculum and makes recommendations on policy related to it. This new initiative sees the CEP widening the angle of its lens. It arose, in part, because the CEP is interested in the reasons behind an increase in double majors and some sense that students feel compelled to graduate with a set of credentials.

Lee Park, a chemistry professor who’s associate dean of the faculty and past chair of the CEP, says the initiative essentially looks at, “What it is we do, and in a broader sense, why we do it.”

These broad questions are shaping Why Liberal Arts? and are being explored through public lectures, small dinner conversations, Op-Eds in the student newspaper, and a presence on Tumblr. It’s all meant to engage students and faculty in questions about why it matters to “think liberally,” says Park.

Opportunities to explore Why Liberal Arts?:

  • A lecture by Harry Brighouse titled “Justice, Privilege, and Elite Education” on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 4 p.m. in Bronfman 105. Brighouse teaches in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin and is the author of On Education and School Choice, School Justice.
  • Dinners at Sloan House, to which students invite a faculty or staff member and engage in conversations focused on specific questions about the liberal arts. Fall dates are Tuesday, Oct. 14; Thursday, Oct. 30; and Tuesday, Nov. 11. Spring semester dinners are also planned.
  • A to-be-announced open community event at Paresky Center, during which students will be invited to respond to prompts and engage in the conversation. 
  • Events and programming during Claiming Williams, February 5, when the campus engages in events and discussions about building and sustaining a more inclusive community. 
  • An alumni panel in April about the value of the liberal arts as embodied in their own experiences at Williams and beyond.
  • Multiple fora for faculty to engage with one another in discussion of various topics about the liberal arts and the larger questions of what a Williams education means more broadly.

Park says students will continually amass the practical skills needed to succeed in careers, but the time they spend in college offers a chance to explore widely. “The hope is that these public discussions will inspire the community to take maximum advantage of the Williams curriculum while they’re here,” she says.


Keep an eye out for “Why Liberal Arts?: Challenging, Transforming, Connecting” (#WhyLiberalArts) throughout the year. Many events are being co-sponsored by the Robert L. Gaudino Memorial Fund, the Book Unbound, and Phi Beta Kappa.