A Reflection on The Humanities and the Liberal Arts in 21st Century Higher Education Symposium
NYU Student Rapporteurs
La Pietra Dialogues
November 14, 2011

The Future of the Humanities and the Liberal Arts in 21st Century Higher Education symposium was informative and provided the students who attended a better idea of the mission of the humanities and the major difficulties it faces today.

Students rapporteurs who served during the working sessions gathered after the conference to compile a list of things we appreciated most about the conference, as well as certain things we didn´t agree with.

More often than not, people are unaware of how important the humanities are in our everyday lives. Everything from reading the newspaper to making important decisions is directly related to the humanities. By studying the great works such as Plato and Socrates, one learns different perspectives and opinions, allowing one to make more informed decisions. By taking classes only in the sciences, one does not obtain such essential critical thinking skills. Also, it is often overlooked how important and relevant the knowledge of history is to the present, it can better help us understand situations and evaluate different courses of action.

Students aren´t always aware of all of the professional opportunities they have with a degree in the humanities. While a science major often pursues a career in a speiclaized field, humanities majors, such as philosophy, can pursue careers in a wide variety of fields. It is fascinating that one who majors in philosophy has the opportunity to go to law school and will often perform better on the LSAT.

Listening to the speakers in this conference alone demonstrated to many students the problem solving abilities and communication skills that people experienced in the humanities develop. A great point made at the conference was that even those who are not majoring in the humanities should take classes that focus on the humanities. For medical students, it often teaches them to be more empathetic.

Many of the working groups discussed what needed to be done for students and what should be required of them. However, several panels did not raise the idea of talking to students, even though there were some sitting at the table. They often spoke as if they knew what was best for us and were not always able to explain why humanistic studies were essential to our future. In one of the workshops, a participant bemoaned the ignorance of today´s students, lamenting that many students do not even know the cause of the civil war today. All of the above communicated to us that they need to listen more to students and their perspectives in order to attract more students to study in fields such as art and history.

A diversity of experience and background would have added to the conference. Every person in attendance had some link to the humanities and all had attended college, graduate school, and often even had doctorates. In order to better problem solve, diversity is a necessity. One student disagreed with what he saw as the ´Western-centric views´ of some in attendance. The organizers seemed to realize the importance of expanding the discussion and plan to for the next conference. 

Overall, students who had the opportunity to take notes at the conference and attend the lectures were at an advantage. It left them more informed about a subject that is relevant to them. It relieved many students of the fear that a major in the humanities ultimately leads to no career path and no jobs. Now, students can be more informed when choosing a field of study, for they know all the opportunities that will open for them if they choose a humanities major.






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