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UA News
Liberal arts crucial for excellence

By Wildcat Opinions Board
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday October 10, 2002

It was no surprise to see scientific fields dominating the preliminary list of 13 academic themes administrators would like to enhance as the UA undertakes its massive restructuring.

But it's downright shocking that the arts and humanities were mentioned only once ¸ and only in the context of "community outreach" ¸ and social sciences not mentioned at all.

The list, a preliminary document outlining Provost George Davis' and other administrators' priorities under the newly-proposed "Focused Excellence" plan, emphasizes hard science, fields that relate to the UA's place in the American Southwest, and areas like optics and biotechnology in which the UA is recognized as a national leader.

Though far from a binding document, it's the university's first look at how administrators are prioritizing what will stay and what will go under Focused Excellence.

President Peter Likins has emphasized repeatedly that fine and liberal arts are central to a university's vitality, saying that part of Focused Excellence will be redirecting more state funds to those areas.

That's why it's so surprising to see them missing from the list. Sure, one of the 13 points is "community outreach through the arts and humanities," but the wording of this entry coupled with those essential fields' absence from the rest of the list implies that arts and humanities are only valuable through public service.

The list should emphasize that a solid background in those fields is vital to anyone's formation as a critical thinker. Perhaps administrators thought that idea was implied, considering the fundamental role of universities in society. It certainly should be. But that ambiguity could have easily been avoided by including an item on the list like, "Arts, humanities and social sciences to foster intellectual curiosity in students."

Let's be realistic. This list is nothing close to a final product. It would be a blatant misstatement to say that the arts, humanities and social sciences will be banned from the institution once it embraces Focused Excellence.

But when the university administration's upper echelons release a document that places virtually no emphasis on liberal arts, it's surprising and a bit disturbing.

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