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Taking the “liberal arts” out of MC?

February 1, 2013

Joe Florio / The Courier - Wallace Hall has long been a symbol of the traditions and heritage of Monmouth College, but with the subtraction of “Liberal Arts” from MC’s publications, will other customs follow?

In an attempt to attract more students to Monmouth College, the Admissions staff has taken it upon itself to adjust its marketing strategy by changing the core identity of the college. The change is simple: eliminate the phrase “liberal arts” from the promotional brochures and pamphlets that are sent to prospective students’ homes.

According to Vice President of Strategic Planning Timothy Keefauver the phrase ‘liberal arts’ was an undefined term for many families.

“I don’t want to speak above them,” he said. “Instead we are using terms like ‘integrated learning’ or ‘active learning.’”

Instead of exposing students to the term early on to distinguish Monmouth from other colleges prospective students may be considering, Monmouth is eliminating the component that makes it unique to its competitors as Monmouth is one of approximately 24 colleges in Illinois that identifies as a liberal arts institution.

“Effective communication and marketing must speak to its audience. It must not communicate above or below the audience level or comprehension or comfort,” reads a document given to The Courier by Keefauver addressing the change.

Many faculty members have expressed their concerns with the change, though some appreciate the meaning behind the new plan.

“While liberal arts education has remained to its classical roots, the modern understanding of the word liberal has not,” said Political Economy and Commerce Department Chair Michael Connell in an email to The Courier.  “Effective communication requires the use of words the audience understands.  Those who devote their lives to this type of education lament this change and the loss of original meaning. I may not like it, but I understand it.”

Keefauver also claimed he based his plan off models from other liberal arts colleges. His document also states “the best liberal arts colleges in the nation had moved to this method [of eliminating ‘liberal arts’],” but he was unable to provide any evidence to support his findings. Upon further investigation, noteworthy colleges such as the top ranked Amherst College, Oberlin College and each college in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest still advertise liberal arts as a part of their curriculum.

This change poses a dilemma for faculty members who now believe it is on their shoulders to expose prospective students to the term of liberal arts that Monmouth has historically prided itself on. “I think this could lead to more students who wouldn’t understand what Monmouth College does,” said English Department Chair Mark Willhardt. “There’s pressure on economics. I understand we need numbers, but I fear students won’t be prepared for what we’re offering. Before, I think faculty assumed Admissions was recruiting on the phrase ‘liberal arts.’ We could count on students knowing the phrase. There’s a big difference from knowing something to knowing nothing and starting at zero.”

Even for President Mauri Ditzler, the change stems from the school’s question of future finances.

“As we think about moving forward, we’re in an economic environment where it doesn’t seem appropriate to imagine colleges increasing their tuition dramatically,” said Ditzler. “Where’s the money going to come from then? There are really three possible places. We can get people to donate more money to us. We could ask current students and future students to pay more… The other possibility is to increase the number [of students] in the institution.”

With curriculum cuts forced by the new 4-4 plan and the elimination of ‘liberal arts,’ Monmouth College is moving forward. However, preserving what makes Monmouth College the school it is known to be might be a better approach, according to some.

“We need students,” Willhardt said, “but we also need to preserve what makes us a liberal arts college.”

Stevie Croisant
Copy Editor

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