Love for the liberal arts

The “slacker” reputation of CLA students is undeserved.

Bronwyn Miller

Yesterday, the College of Liberal Arts Student Board put on CLA Day, a celebration for those of us who are often told we are pursuing degrees that are “worthless,” “useless,” “easy” and “lazy.” My favorite overheard of the day nicely summed up the disdain commonly held by our non-CLA counterparts: “Why do they need a party when they party all year long?”

To you, sir, and all other CLhAters, I object. But the liberal arts naysayers run far and wide. In a Feb. 19 Thought Catalog article titled “The Case for Removing (Almost) All Liberal Arts From College,” the author asserted that those of us with liberal arts degrees can aspire only to be “miserable, cash-strapped, debt-laden retail workers” and “debt-slaves and baristas that can recite Emmanuel [sic] Kant’s passages from memory.”

Those who declare that liberal arts degrees are useless argue that we are just getting our B.A. in B.S. and not preparing for the “real world.” They cite salary evidence to argue that we are “doomed.” Indeed, the latest salary survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that none of the top-10 highest paid jobs for new college graduates relate to a liberal arts degree. Engineering, on the other hand, encompassed seven spots on the top-10 list. But to read this statistic as suggesting that everyone should pursue engineering is a pretty unhelpful and restrictive life lesson for those of us obtaining college degrees.

Average starting salary information simply cannot tell the whole story of a career path, nor should money by any means serve as the sole marker of a worthwhile education. Importantly, a college degree of any kind is only as useful as you make it. Employers seek candidates with experience no matter what your major is. A high GPA, also crucial in landing a job, will be more probable if you’re pursuing a major that you are passionate about.

Furthermore, a new survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities indicated that 93 percent of respondents believe critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills are more important than a prospective employee’s undergraduate major. And if any college is particularly focused on enhancing those abilities, it’s CLA — check out our syllabi.

The argument that CLA students are lazy and only interested in “sliding by” simply doesn’t hold weight. Pursuing a liberal arts degree presents just as many challenges as, say, mastering a difficult theorem or creating a business plan. Many of the classes I have taken in CLA have rocked my worldview, forcing me to confront societal ills, sordid acts in nation’s history and my own potential complicity with troublesome social norms. Continuing to live naively with rose-colored glasses on certainly would have been easier — after all, ignorance is bliss. But these classes required me to face issues head-on and engage in difficult conversations. I read the opinions of experts and academics, wrote papers critiquing problems and brainstorming feasible solutions and engaged in heated but respectful debates. While the epiphanies these classes inspired may have initially been painful to confront, they have ultimately shaped me into a more knowledgeable, enthusiastic and open-minded person better equipped as a motivated and dynamic world citizen. These are skills that cannot necessarily be quantified, yet they absolutely impress employers.

More than anything, major in what you love not what “they say” will make money. A well-rounded education in CLA equips you with the versatility and preparedness to tackle the five to seven career changes that people are said to undergo in their lifetimes. Above all, a liberal arts education creates more culturally aware and diverse thinkers — and that is certainly not useless.