February 20, 2007

Being liberal with the liberal arts

With all the econ majors on campus, it’s easy to forget that some students here are actually interested in the fine arts. A true liberal arts education should give the arts their due. In this vein, the Arts Clarity Group (ACG)—created in 2001 under President Don Randel in response to a report on the arts’ role on campus—has produced a list of suggestions. Better facilities, tighter integration with professional arts organizations in Chicago, better incorporation with the Hyde Park community, and the creation of additional full-time arts faculty are all on the list.

The University has made a series of welcome improvements since the formation of the commission, such as providing the space for the new Hyde Park Arts Center and continuing to lend support to groups such as Festival of the Arts and University Theater. Yet many students in the arts think that their work is underappreciated on campus, and some qualified undergraduates may choose to attend competing institutions due to a perceived lack of support of the arts on this campus.

Improving the arts program is a move that will make life here more vibrant. The University is not at risk of losing its academic rigor or reputation as a strong liberal arts school by adding people who are interested in arts as well as the Core. Further, the addition of a nascent engineering program alongside these developments in the arts is only a further testament that this campus can and should branch out in various directions in a balanced way.

The University is moving in the right direction with the arts. But the proposed changes—stemming from a concern for the arts that has now long been touted as important—are only a first step. While we like what we’ve heard, the University must back up its words with actions—such as progress on the proposed student arts space—to effect a real change on campus life.