Liberal arts are still liberal, aren’t they?

From misleading images on the college’s website to rebranding efforts, CLA has changed.

Jared Rogers-Martin

On the first day of the semester, some observant students and faculty may have noticed the new website design for the University of Minnesota.

Some of the University’s colleges also took the opportunity to update the front pages of their websites. The image that the College of Liberal Arts picked to represent their institution shows … a student using a microscope?

Now, there might be a few students in CLA who occasionally look into a microscope. For example, histological differences in bone density might require an anthropology student to fetch a microscope, or the miniscule differences in neurotransmitters might interest a psychology major.

However, there are more than 30 other departments that represent the liberal arts in their most well-known form. All these get cast aside by branding CLA with an image of a scientist.

This oversight represents a branding problem that shadows liberal arts programs everywhere. The liberal arts are important, and their achievements deserve acknowledgement, at the very least, from their parent
institution.

I looked into the University’s strategic plan from 2014 to see whether I could resolve this image crisis. The University asks CLA to dedicate itself to “building vibrant communities that enhance human potential and collective well-being in a diverse and changing society.”

This quote certainly falls in line within the philosophies of political science, journalism and linguistics majors, so perhaps the issue that stymies us falls into the hands of CLA’s dean, John Coleman.

Coleman maintains a blog that updates the college’s successes in meeting his “Road Map” plan. In a recent entry on the blog, he proclaims, “We in CLA must argue strongly against a narrative that suggests that the liberal arts are ‘out there’ and ‘over there somewhere’ while the important business of the university happens elsewhere.”

Coleman recognizes that the liberal arts do get left out of the “important business” on college campuses.

His attempt to rebrand CLA’s reputation and image on campus is noble, and I can only hope he can bolster the college’s renown. However, I take issue with the second part of his statement.

By nature, the liberal arts are “out there,” and oftentimes they chase a thought “over there somewhere.”

The narrative of discovery in the liberal arts lies beyond contemporary understanding. It is why we chose to sit in front of a book detailing the artistic concepts of postmodern art instead of sitting in front of a microscope or proving Pythagoras’ theorem.

The heads of our college should not cover up attempts to understand the abstract. Rather, they should cultivate these attempts, nurture and recognize them — or at least represent them with an image that attempts to define liberal arts, whatever they may be.