By Robert L. Bogomolny, President of the University of Baltimore
Among the many challenges facing higher education today is an increasing demand for accountability. What do students (and their parents) get for their tuition dollars? What’s the return on investment for a college degree?
These are understandable questions, especially in uncertain economic times. Equally understandable is the trend that has accompanied these questions: a devaluation of the traditional liberal arts in favor of those disciplines perceived to have a more direct connection to the job market. As a result, parents are likely to be pleased when their tuition dollars result in an engineering degree and less than thrilled with a degree in English.
This trend is receiving national attention this week as the Academy of Arts and Sciences issues “The Heart of the Matter,” a report that underscores what many of us in higher education already know: that the humanities are more important –and more relevant – than ever before.
At the University of Baltimore, where I am fortunate and proud to serve as president, we are committed to preparing students for the world of work, as evidenced by our tagline, Knowledge That Works. And while that preparation will always include imparting practical skills that relate directly to a student’s chosen fields, we have an equal responsibility to expose students to a wide range of disciplines and experiences – the core of the liberal arts experience. We acknowledge that higher education does more than simply prepare students for jobs: We must also prepare members of future generations to be engaged, well-rounded global citizens.
How can we best accomplish that lofty goal? By recognizing that a liberal arts (read “broad-based”) curriculum, far from being frivolous, is the best way to assure success in a world in which solutions are found across multiple disciplines and in which innovation is cultivated through myriad perspectives.
I see proof of this at UB every academic year; here is just one example. Our freshman experience centers on learning communities, thematically linked courses taught by multidisciplinary teams of faculty members. One recent learning community, iPad, eBook, uThink: How Technology Has Changed Writing, Publishing and Reading, was taught by a writing instructor, a psychology professor and an information technology specialist. Students explored how publishing has evolved through the centuries and how that evolution has impacted human expression.
Their final group project was the publication of a book of stories – Uncover the Veil – in which students explore concepts such as morality and justice. In a single, one-semester class, students honed their writing, learned e-publishing techniques and debated issues central to the human condition – all within a team-based approach. These skills – of communication, technological literacy, critical-thinking and the ability to work in teams – were identified as the most highly valued by employers in a survey conducted by The Association of American Colleges and Universities.
There is another aspect of the humanities’ enduring value that is important to note: we are no longer preparing students for a career, we are preparing them for careers. We don’t know what will be in demand in 2025 or 2040, any more than we could have predicted the need for a social media specialist 10 years ago. In this, I’ve been an early adopter, having worked for the Justice Department, served as a law dean, been a corporate senior vice president and now a university president (not to mention an early stint as a soda truck deliveryman). In my varied professional life, I have been informed by an undergraduate statistics class I was required to take; by the analytical rigor of my legal education; and by my lifelong appreciation of the arts and humanities. My career and my life have been made richer by the sum total of these and other experiences.
There is no return on investment more valuable than that.
Robert L. Bogomolny took on the role of president of the University of Baltimore in 2002. A Harvard College and Harvard Law School graduate, Bogomolny draws upon an exceptional background that spans the academic, legal and corporate worlds. Bogomolny came to the UB from G.D. Searle & Company, where he served as corporate senior vice president and general counsel from 1987 to 2001. Bogomolny previously served as professor of law and dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University from 1977 to 1987, and also as professor of law at Southern Methodist University School of Law for seven years. Under his leadership, UB continues to grow and change as it meets the needs of students, employers and a society with an increasingly global outlook. Outside of the University, Bogomolny is active in a diverse group of community organizations, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.