Princeton Ly – Thoughts on Liberal Arts

It’s interesting to think that when UCLA was founded, it was mainly tasked with producing educated professionals – think teachers and accountants. Nowadays, UCLA has morphed into a sprawling public research university, with the bulk of its graduates receiving degrees from the College of Letters and Science. Education and Accounting have been regulated to minors, though Engineering and Nursing have their own divisions.

When I personally came to UCLA and entered the College of Letters and Science, I had really no idea what a “liberal arts education” was and how it actually mattered to me. Over the years, though, I have come to better understand and strongly appreciate the benefits of learning this way.

From Wikipedia:

Students in the liberal arts generally major in a particular discipline while receiving exposure to a wide range of academic subjects, including sciences as well as the traditional humanities subjects taught as liberal arts.

The result? Again, from Wikipedia:

. . . broad general knowledge and . . . general intellectual capacities.

Honestly, I think the former aspect is much less important that the latter. Most people who go to college don’t retain the actual material as much as they retain the ability to reason through material. Case in point – at certain times at this university, I would have been able to tell you a lot about Chinese pottery, atmospheric phenomena, matrix operations, etc. Now, probably not so much, but – if given a text on any of these things, would have a reasonable chance of picking everything up again on my own.

That doesn’t sound like too much, but it is. A liberal arts education teaches you how to analyze material, how different fields blend together, how to think. I have realized this more and more as the years have passed here. So when writing a paper for my Modernism class this quarter, I can rest easier knowing my analysis of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe’s works are grounded in a view of architecture gained in my Architecture from Los Angeles course and supplemented by an appreciation of Modernist literature picked up in my Introduction to Scandinavian Literatures and Cultures course. Taken separately, each class dealt with such random topics as to be almost flippantly arbitrary, but viewed holistically, I can now understand and appreciate much of twentieth century history, economics, culture, philosophy, psychology, etc., all without having taken a class specifically in that discipline. This intellectual versatility is the benefit of a liberal arts education, and is just one in a long list of reasons why I love UCLA.