Liberal arts courses blend well with other USC programs

Academics and intellectuals recently have been lamenting what they perceive as the slow, torturous death of the humanities and other majors seen as less “practical” and lacking enough potential to translate into a successful job.

Cindy Lee | Daily Trojan

USC has managed to foster at least a basic appreciation for the arts and humanities, and for the most part  has avoided the polarizing trend toward colleges as pre-professional factories.

USC prides itself on offering a well-rounded education comparable to a small liberal arts college, but with the financial support and global resources of a research university.

Traditionally, liberal arts education emphasizes critical thinking and personal intellectual development, as opposed to providing more technical or specific skills for a future career.

Students might bemoan the general education, foreign language and writing requirements, but USC nevertheless maintains a strong core.

The College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, for example, requires undergraduates to complete one course from six different categories spanning scientific inquiry to global cultures and traditions. Students enroll in two writing courses, WRIT 140 and WRIT 340, and must complete the equivalent of three semesters of a foreign language.

USC treats students to a generous selection of interdisciplinary majors as well, such as Health and Humanity; Politics, Law and Society; and International Relations Global Business, to name a few, which also serve to broaden perspectives and help students realize the interdisciplinary nuances behind problems.

Though USC values the broad scope of a liberal arts education, it is still behind other colleges in realizing those values.

Students at the University of Chicago, which arguably has one of the best core curriculum programs in the nation, engage in more than 15 quarters of interdisciplinary general education. Students accrue six quarters in the Humanities, Civilization Studies and the Arts cluster.

They also must complete at least two quarters in the physical sciences, two quarters in the biological sciences, one quarter in mathematics and at least one more quarter in the sciences. The last cluster covers three quarters of social sciences.

Admittedly, with fewer general education requirements, it becomes easier to add a major or minor. Flexibility appeals to many students and certainly plays a prominent role in attracting the soon-to-be-incoming freshman class.

USC enthusiastically encourages pursuing several diverse interests without regard to the increasing concern over the career “usefulness” of a certain major.

For example, a psychology major could relatively easily merge his or her interests in comparative literature, and possibly graduate as a Renaissance Scholar, a distinction awarded to undergraduates who pursue “widely separated fields of study.”

But to realize an interest in comparative literature to begin with, perhaps the student had first been “forced” to take a class in British literature or a culture studies poetry course.

A student who enters with a single-minded pursuit of pre-med might emerge from a western civilizations and history class with a new double major in biological Sciences and philosophy.

As for students who intend to double major and view general education courses as a burden on their limited units, other measures can be taken to ensure there is enough time to complete their intended interests, but not at the expense of a background in other studies.

USC sponsors an incredible number of seminars and programs dedicated to engaging and provoking interdisciplinary thought. The College Commons, the Levan Institute for Humanities, Annenberg, Visions and Voices and a plethora of other series abound. Perhaps USC could offer two-unit classes which require attendance and reflection on these events,  so that students are active participants in their general education.

A desire for students to be successful in their future careers is not mutually exclusive with a liberal arts education, and sustaining a strong foundation in the humanities does not preclude dynamic programs in the sciences.

USC already cultures an atmosphere of community learning and interdisciplinary thought, but should continue to prove itself by not forgetting the foundations of a scholar in the creation of a professional.

Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health and biological sciences. Her column, “Trojan Grounds,” runs Mondays.

4 replies
  1. JP
    JP says:

    It is precisely this kind of an attitude that has allowed us to slip behind the rest of the world in terms of education standards. Universities in China are definitely not encouraging students to “follow their passion” and spend 4 yrs learning something like philosophy or sociology. They send them into science, business, or engineering so that they have a tangible skill which translates into a job.

  2. Ras
    Ras says:

    As a society we need to to place less value on this culture of experts. Experts are what managed to get us into a financial fiasco that we are just starting to pull ourselves out of the wreckage from. Experts managed to pull us into a war with no end in site and no clear victory goal to achieve. Experts are what causes so many kids to become medicated and diagnosed with ailments that were close to non-existent in previous generations or elsewhere in much of the world. I understand a general liberal arts degree feel rudderless because the student graduates from college after 4 years and does not have a field or profession to cling to. However, I would argue in many cases that student is much more prepared to be trained into a profession – highly technical or otherwise and can also understand its relevance within the context of greater society as a whole. Just listen to the idiotic pundits on news shows every night spewing out data like only experts and pundits can do. Hopefully we do not become a nation reliant on the wisdom of the experts only.

    • Timmer
      Timmer says:

      Experts are also the people finding new ways to treat diseases that someday might take your life prematurely. Experts are the ones developing new technologies to decrease our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that, if not causing global warming, are certainly causing us to breathe the accumulated smog here in the LA basin. In direct response to your comments: experts are also the ones figuring out how to get our out of the economic crisis (do you, as a non-expert have any great ideas supported by research and data?). Experts are also the ones that have brought infant mortality in the US to the lowest rate in recorded history.

      The big fallacy in your arguments is that (with one exception), you are talking about experts whose actions are motivated by POLITICS. You are ignoring the vast world of experts who are simply trying to do what they can do to make the world better.

      I hope that we don’t become a nation of people like you who don’t value the education and expertise of the people who innovate and create and without whose expertise you’d be sitting in the dark reading a papyrus page by oil lamp. Or, maybe you’d like that?

  3. Marshall alumnus
    Marshall alumnus says:

    I don’t know?. A close friend of mine has a psych/linguistics degree from prestigious University of California, Berkeley, but she struggled for years after college to secure employment. She even went on to get her PhD in this discipline, still a dismal situation. And you got to consider, this was prior to the economy taking a nosedive.

    I have no faith in liberal arts/humanities studies. My agenda isn’t the shallow goal of becoming wealthy, because you sure as hell can’t become wealthy with this under your belt. Developing an open mind and honing your critical thinking skills are beneficial, but putting all your eggs in this basket is a pyrrhic victory.

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