When does liberal become too liberal?

Maya Jindal
Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Liberal Arts, a field of study that’s gaining exposure in India, is a largely ambiguous term for many. Here’s what students of the field have to say about it

We’ve all heard it before, meddled with the name, tried to figure out what it means, and given up. What is Liberal Arts?

“An education in a more creative, less mathematical profession.”
— Devansh Rai

“The flexibility to explore and learn a diverse range of subjects and fields.”
       — Sanyogita Khare

Liberal Arts, a field of study that’s gaining exposure in India, is a largely ambiguous term for many. Here’s what students of the field have to say about it

We’ve all heard it before, meddled with the name, tried to figure out what it means, and given up. What is Liberal Arts?

“An education in a more creative, less mathematical profession.”
— Devansh Rai

“The flexibility to explore and learn a diverse range of subjects and fields.”
       — Sanyogita Khare

“An education that exposes you to several fields, so that regardless of what you may be pursuing, you can appreciate all schools of knowledge.” 
— Rohit Yalamati

It’s interdisciplinary. One takes courses within humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and formal sciences. Usually, Liberal Arts programmes are four-year long, after which you earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in whatever field you decide to major in. The first two years are for experimentation, where you take various courses in different fields after which you declare a major and focus on it for the rest of the programme.

FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCES
“Liberal Arts changes everything for you, you just don’t know what’s happening,” says Sanah Thakur, a FLAME graduate. Her favourite part was the different perspectives she got while studying the course. “We got to take random courses such as the History of Rock Music and Sculpting. I majored in Psychology, but taking a Sociology course made me understand so many things in Psychology better, which makes the experience so much more enriching,” says Thakur as she reflects on her college experience. She goes on to say that the “biggest thing you learn from Liberal Arts is to not be so judgmental.” In terms of job prospects, she says, “Liberal Arts is still a new concept in India. People don’t exactly understand it, but if you can tell your story right, you can definitely get a job. Abroad, they recognise it more.”

“I’m going into the medical field and as a doctor you have to be passionate about caring for your patients and making advancements in medicine. And I think that Liberal Arts has allowed me to get to know myself better and enhanced this passion in me,” says Rohit Yalamati, a second-year student at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta. He loves the Liberal Arts programme and says that it gives him “the ability to respect other disciplines by expanding his beliefs and views.”

Riya Jindal, a rising junior majoring in film production, has a different take on the Liberal Arts programme. After attending Denison University for a year and a half, she began attending film school as she thought Liberal Arts didn’t allow her to explore her interests in depth. Her advice to confused students is to take a gap year. Riya says that “knowing what I wanted made my college experience richer. Liberal Arts teaches you HOW to learn, but I don’t think that’s what you should be doing in college. The large number of general education requirements can distract you from what you want to specialise in.”

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Prospective Liberal Arts student Vedant Lamba says, “Students usually aren’t 100 per cent sure of what they want to do, and when you study something at a university level, your opinion about many subjects usually changes.” He believes that the course will help him see the subject in the most objective form. Another student leaning towards the Liberal Arts programme, Dhamini Agarwal, wants to pursue it because it’s more flexible. She thinks that Liberal Arts is sculpted to suit everyone, but the only drawback is having to take classes in fields you may not necessarily want to.

LOOKING FORWARD
The world needs people with good communication skills. Consequently, many Liberal Arts courses are discussion based, which forces students out of their comfort zones into an environment where they are required to verbally communicate with their peers and professors. Vaibhav Domkundwar, founder and CEO of Better, Inc, shares his thoughts on the course.

Why would companies hire Liberal Arts students? “As a technology entrepreneur, if you look at every function that is non engineering, I think Liberal Arts is a great background. Especially in fields like Marketing that deals specifically with content, good content succeeds, nothing else does — it’s all about connecting with other people. Liberal Arts majors have that leg up — they connect with people at a very core level.”

He says that the way they look at a problem, sets them apart. “A Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) employee would quickly boil it down to the equation. But, a Liberal Arts major offers a softer angle and realises that problem solving is not 1+1=2. There are so many other aspects to it,” he says. Also, the perspective of looking at a problem. “At a very basic level we know a person who is well read usually has more ways to look at anything versus someone who is less read. Same with STEM versus Liberal Arts majors. Liberal Arts majors look at the bigger picture,” he adds. 

Liberal Arts programmes are designed to teach its students about the importance of having a holistic perspective. In an ever competitive world, where specialisation may be key, Liberal Arts is reaching out across the US, parts of Europe and now, India.

- Maya Jindal

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