Diversity of Liberal Arts: Message from the Dean

Dean Lee

Welcome to Higher Ground, the annual publication of the College of Arts and Sciences. Our theme this year focuses on the diversity of a liberal arts education.

We adhere to the basic philosophy of a liberal arts education, which is to empower individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills and provide a strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement. We are the gateway to knowledge for every undergraduate student enrolled at UT. Our faculty provides the foundational instruction for these students and helps them put down the roots that will nurture their lifelong learning.

We value the diversity of a liberal arts education and the options our students have while moving through the curriculum in our college. We consider diversity beyond the human experience of self and apply the concept to the long history of a liberal arts education. When the Greeks began to experiment with a new form of government – democracy – they realized in order for it work, citizens needed the skills to think critically and engage in discourse. The search for truth combined with the art of rhetoric became known as artes liberales and the foundation of education for all citizens.

The theme of diversity is also timely from a strategic perspective. This year, the UT Board of Trustees approved Vol Vision 2020, which included a new strategic priority for the university – diversity and inclusion. The focus is to enhance the diversity of campus across all aspects of human differences, including gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, social-economic status, and more. This is an important piece of diversity because it helps cultivate one of the core values of a liberal arts education: a global perspective. We are embarking on a project to update our strategic plan and align it with the university plan, but with one major difference – diversity has always been part of what we are as a college and the foundation of our history on campus.

The College of Arts and Sciences is the oldest college at UT. In 1794, Blount College opened its doors to offer a broad education in the arts and sciences and became one of the first liberal arts colleges established in Tennessee. At that time, the concept of providing a broad education and spontaneous diversity of educational choices at universities around the country was just taking hold.

We provide a diversity of choice in education through a unique program designed to allow students to explore fields of study, choose a degree program, and define their future. Rather than forcing a young mind to conform to the confines of an entirely specified curriculum, first- and second-year students have the opportunity to explore classes based on their interests and guided by requirements to experience the humanities, sciences, and arts. This process of self-discovery helps them hone their beliefs and values and decide on a major about which they have a passion. With education and motivation come job opportunities after college and long-term career choices that take advantage of the breadth and depth of their education.

In a 2015 report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 91 percent of employers agreed that a person’s capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.

Students develop these skills as they move through our curriculum. With 21 academic units and schools, eight centers and institutes, and 13 interdisciplinary programs that span the disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and the visual and performing arts, we are the largest, most comprehensive and most diverse college on campus and the central driver of academic accomplishments at UT.

By providing students with access to new and diverse ways of problem solving, communicating, and interacting with each other, we can make an impact on Tennessee, the nation, and the world.

I hope you are impressed with the accomplishments of our faculty, students, and alumni featured in this annual report. They are a testament to the 223-year history of liberal arts education for students in Tennessee.

-Theresa M. Lee