The Pacific Alliance of Liberal Arts

Our new article which is entitled “After Yale-NUS Closure, liberal arts in Asia will benefit from Peer Support” has just appeared in Times Higher Education. We provide a strong argument for liberal arts education in the piece, and note that closing Yale-NUS College has squandered the hard work of many top scholars from Yale UniversityNational University of Singapore and the many Yale-NUS faculty who have worked over many years to create the vibrant intellectual cultures of Yale-NUS College and also the USP. The “merging” of these institutions is a huge loss. We are starting a new Pacific Alliance of Liberal Arts Colleges (PALAC) to foster greater awareness of the power of liberal arts education. This new PALAC group will bring top liberal arts programs from the US, Canada, China, and other Asia/Pacific countries to foster collaborative research, curriculum development and faculty and student dialogs on the most urgent issues facing our planet. The Alliance also can play a key role in advocating for liberal arts, and articulating a global vision of liberal arts that prepares students to help solve global grand challenges and to make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). 

Our group will work together to help bring greater appreciation of the power for liberal arts education to build creativity, communication and cognitive agility in students. These skills are ever more vital as the exponential technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerate change and bring entirely new industries together that can reshape our planet. Training students in liberal arts skills will allow them to contribute and to lead in these developments to help shape this development in ways that foster a greater sense of humanity and sustainability.

The other facet of liberal arts education is that it is effective not only for building skills in thinking and communication but for building deep skills in traditional disciplines from the beginning of an undergraduate’s career. The intense mentoring and interactive classrooms within liberal arts campuses enable students to inquire and grow develop their talents fully. A liberal arts college focuses on undergraduate education as its primary mission, and students benefit from this simpler mission undiluted by the quest for national research rankings, NCAA football titles, and the many other aspects of the larger R1 universities that can dilute their abilities to develop a student to their full capacity. A quote from the THE article illustrates the ways that liberal arts colleges have been effective:

Acceptance of the liberal arts model among Asian parents and prospective students has been driven by data showing how effective it is at preparing students for careers in business, science and other fields. In his 2011 book Liberal Arts at the Brink, Victor Ferrall notes that 12 of the 53 Nobel prizewinners between 1999 and 2008 who received their undergraduate education at a US college or university received it at a liberal arts college. This is all the more remarkable given that less than 2 per cent of US undergraduates study at a liberal arts college.

Such institutions’ ability to punch above their weight is underlined by a 2016 article in Nature, which noted that the top 10 institutions for producing Nobel Prizes per capita include two US liberal arts colleges, Swarthmore College and Amherst College. And National Science Foundation figures indicate that liberal arts colleges accounted for 27 of the top 50 sources of science and engineering doctorates per capita between 2002 and 2011.