The First Pillar: Build on the ClassicsThe first duty of a university is to teach Wisdom, not a trade; Character, not technicalities. We must learn to support ourselves, but we must also learn how to live.
-- Sir Winston Churchill[i]
During the past half century, colleges and universities have shifted their core curricula away from required courses and great texts. They have allowed students to choose from a grab bag of classes that fail to guarantee the solid understanding of history, literature, languages, the arts, science, and mathematics that was once a hallmark of a college education.
The result is that the first two years of college often appear to lack justification. Students may view the courses they take outside of their major as a mere hurdle, a relic of an educational system that has become obsolete. Given the way core curricula are currently structured in many schools, they are right. What was once a coherent program of courses designed to generate a set of academic and cultural competencies has degenerated into an educational salad bar. Rather than participate in the slow slide away from a true college experience and toward a more expensive version of vocational-technical preparation, we will choose a different path.
Our relatively small size and low student-to-faculty ratios allow us to move quickly and take advantage of the current gap in the marketplace. There are many students and families who grasp the importance of becoming truly educated. They know that majors are important, but that careful reading and writing in the liberal arts develop the capacities that make for successful leaders, managers, and executives. Liberal arts excellence leads to excellence in the professions. There is also evidence to suggest that students strong in the liberal arts are highly successful when they seek admission to graduate and professional schools.
Perhaps the most important benefit of a classical liberal arts program is that it helps students gain wisdom and perspective. The meaning of life, despite the drift of the modern academy away from deeper questions, is worth studying at the university. In liberal arts courses, students and professors take part in a great conversation that has been going on for centuries. It is in these courses that a community of faith and learning encounters good versus evil, questions about human nature, morality, law, ethics, community, government, and the nature of truth. At some point in the last century, many universities (particularly secular ones) stopped caring about these things. HBU still cares.
In order to provide our students with the full benefit of the traditional understanding of the liberal arts, we will move in the direction of a true core curriculum over the course of the coming decade. We will establish departments in the classics, in modern languages, and in philosophy to support our liberal arts curriculum. Our students, regardless of their choice of major, will have strong foundations in history, literature, the arts, foreign languages, government, science, and mathematics. There will be more core courses that all students must take. Many of these will be signature courses unique to the HBU experience. Upon completion of our curricular restructuring, many students will value the core curriculum as much as they do the classes required for their majors.
[i] Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954. The quote is drawn from a speech Churchill gave to the House of Commons in 1950.