College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

2008 From the Dean: Liberal Arts and Informed Citizenship

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Thomas Jefferson

America faces an important political decision next fall, and The University of Mississippi will play an important role in the national dialogue about the future of our country. We will host the first of three 2008 presidential debates on Friday, Sept. 26.

This debate presents a unique opportunity for the College of Liberal Arts to involve students and faculty members in panel discussions and seminars about the important issues of the campaign. Perhaps some of the visitors to campus for the debates will also be willing to participate. The College embraces this possibility for thoughtful analysis instead of political sound bites.

While we have not yet made final plans, one can easily envision journalism faculty members leading discussions on political strategy, political scientists talking about the political process, historians pointing out the lessons from past elections and scientists helping us understand the complex issues of global warming and stem-cell research. Such discussions would help us all learn more and better understand our choices. 

The desire to understand these choices and the ability to do so flows naturally from the study of the liberal arts. While the definition of a liberal arts education varies from person to person, every definition includes a breadth of education and the ability to analyze arguments for their consistency. The insistence of liberal arts on education in the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences and the fine arts will serve our students and alumni well as they consider the issues at stake next year; the ability to analyze arguments will help them sort out the strong arguments from the weak.

If we in the academy do our jobs well, a liberal arts education brings with it the sophistication of thought necessary to understand complex issues and the intellectual capacity for mature judgment. That does not mean we will always agree. It does mean that we will hold thoughtful positions that we can explain and defend.

 We look forward to the presidential debate and our part in it.