The True Value of Creativity and the Liberal Arts
A question was asked at one of my recent school/college forums with faculty: what is Vanderbilt’s position on recent calls to promote STEM education and cut support for the humanities? My response is simple and clear. Vanderbilt has a deep and unwavering commitment to offering excellence in discovery and learning across ALL disciplines. This commitment is critical to achieving our vision to offer students the best education for their future pursuits, to supporting faculty scholars who impact humanity, and to encouraging all in our community to engage in opportunities across disciplines.
Vanderbilt’s investments across the board – from the humanities to the social sciences to the life and physical sciences – provide us an important opportunity to lead and advance the country’s ongoing conversations about the broader role of the liberal arts in the intellectual life of society.
A poll conducted by IBM of 1,500 CEOs found creativity to be the number one leadership skill for the 21st century. Increasingly, employers are reporting that they seek the creative, problem-solving skills associated with liberal arts graduates as it equips them with essential (and transferable) skills, a sense of social responsibility, and the ability to adapt to change.
In a recent presentation to the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, we focused specifically on the arts and creative expression at Vanderbilt. We showcased how the benefits of the creative arts extend beyond the joy or other emotions one feels after seeing a theatrical production, recital performance or art exhibit; how the arts connect with the human spirit in powerful ways, and, broadly speaking, enrich our world and help us to understand and document the human experience; and how universities are unique and essential forces in ensuring the creative arts are preserved, innovated and developed.
Evidence of Vanderbilt’s dedication to the creative arts can be seen across campus – from our investments in the Academic Strategic Plan, to the juxtaposition of the new Innovation Center with the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Arts Center, to the ongoing work of the Chancellor’s Humanities Committee.
In tight economic times, as universities focus on short-term needs, many have cut back on supporting the liberal arts; but at Vanderbilt we will continue our deep commitment. As we move forward, several principles will guide our strategy and approach:
1. Investing in Excellence and Discovery
While the production of creative work is a social good in its own right, it also plays an important role in the discovery process. The debate is not whether students are “better off” being creative writing majors or engineering majors; but rather, whether or not they are prepared by their education to positively impact society. Will they be creative and innovative as they tackle challenges that arise? Few questions can be solved from one perspective or with one approach or discipline. In addition to investing in faculty excellence in our departments and programs, we will continue to support successful collaborations across disciplines through our foundational centers including the Robert Penn Warren Center and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. Moreover, we will seed new ones through the Trans-Institutional Program awards. Two from the 2015 awards that include the creative arts are the Learning Institute for Health Solutions in the U.S. South and The Wisdom Working Group.
2. Launching Immersion Vanderbilt
In the fall of 2018, every entering undergraduate student will be required to have an immersive experience before they graduate. The Immersion Vanderbilt committee is currently charting proposals for the community to consider. Through their work, it is evident that most students in the creative and performing arts already have an immersive experience as a part of their undergraduate program – whether it’s a Blair student writing and producing an original musical performance or a Department of Art student developing an art portfolio and exhibition.
Importantly, Immersion Vanderbilt will also be a unique avenue for non-arts majors to pursue their passions in the creative arts. The program is grounded in the philosophy that students should not have to choose between their passions and practical pursuits. An economics student may want to design and create a public art installation, or an engineering student may want to travel abroad to study European art. Immersion Vanderbilt will be a way for students to explore their creative side. To support these projects and faculty efforts, we will continue to identify additional endowed resources like the Littlejohn, Curb, and Ingram Scholar programs.
3: Supporting the Scholarship of ALL Students and Faculty
Those who advocate for STEM funding over liberal arts, often point to differences in the salary of graduates. However, the differences in salary decrease over time. A study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that at peak earnings, ages (56-60), humanities and social science undergraduates earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those in professional or pre-professional fields. And, importantly, many liberal arts majors go on to careers in the social services and education, which, while lower paying, provide critical support to our communities.
We can do more, however, to ensure ALL our students benefit from all the university has to offer. Our students actively seek balance across disciplines. A theatre major, for example, might have dreams of opening a theatre company. As such, they might benefit from the proposed new business minor. Similarly, students could learn about developing business models to support showing, exhibiting, performing and sharing their creative art through workshops in the new Innovation Center. We want to increase opportunities for our students to obtain complementary skills and knowledge while remaining true to our commitment to broad-based liberal education.
By preparing future artists, writers and performers, by instilling an appreciation for the arts in ALL, and by encouraging students and faculty to reach across boundaries, our university serves as a springboard for our graduates to be the most productive and successful citizens.
This is not an “either or” choice between STEM and the liberal arts. Going forward, by supporting faculty, departments, schools and colleges, we ensure that future generations have such opportunities as well. I encourage you to give your input to the Chancellor’s Humanities Committee. I hope to see many of you soon on campus at an one of our many creative arts performances, exhibits and seminars.
Previous Open Dore Issues
In case you missed it….
New Year, New Hires, New Perspectives – January 2016
Looking Ahead to 2016 – December 2015
A Message on Diversity and Inclusion – November 2015
One VU to the World – October 2015
On Location Update – September 2015
The Feedback Loop – August 2015
The Discovery ROI – May 2015
Strategic Decisions for Strategic Impact – April 2015
New Leaders and Calls for All to Engage – March 2015
A Culture Powered by Ideas – February 2015
Welcome to the First Issue of The Open Dore – January 2015