Letter to the Editor: The Dialogues move the University forward

This piece was submitted by economics professor Justin Jarvis.

As you’ve no doubt heard, this fall we are working on some changes to Truman State University’s core curriculum.  The core is the portion of the curriculum that all of the undergraduate students must complete, regardless of their major, and is a large part of what makes Truman distinctive.  It was once called the Liberal Studies Program (LSP), but will now go by the name Dialogues. Although we are working on it this fall, only students entering fall 2019 and later will be affected by the change.

Why the change?

The LSP was conceived nearly 20 years ago and has educated many thousands of students.  The Dialogues aims to carry on that tradition in a way that will be more applicable to students now.  The planning began in January 2015, and has involved the coordinated efforts of nearly half of the faculty members at Truman.  

The changes aim to give students the opportunity to engage in broader discussions with the campus community, allow the students more flexibility in choosing courses, make it easier to transfer into and out of Truman, open the core curriculum to all departments across campus, and prepare students for the complexities of our modern world.

What exactly does the change consist of?

The Dialogues will feature a freshman seminar sequence, consisting of a one-credit-hour Truman Symposium that will expose our freshmen to 12 dynamic and relevant lectures during the first semester. This common experience will hopefully increase community among new students and inspire stimulating conversation outside of class.  The second part of the sequence is a discipline-specific Self & Society seminar that will ask students to apply the themes they’ve discussed in the symposium in a discipline-specific context, in order to see how each discipline responds to the “Big Questions” that we all grapple with.

Another component is the alignment, in many parts, to the common 42-hour block that all public universities in Missouri offer.  By completing the Dialogues at Truman, students needing to transfer to another public institution in Missouri can be confident that nearly all of the courses would transfer and count for the other institution’s general education curriculum!  Conversely, students can more confidently transfer into Truman without the fear that extra years and extra courses will have to be taken. However, our Dialogues will feature small deviations from the common 42-hour block, owing to our mission as the leading, public, liberal-arts institution in the state.

An additional feature is the elimination of the Liberal Arts and Sciences course moniker.  This was done to convey the notion that a liberal-arts education need not consist of taking courses only in a specific set of disciplines.  Rather, a liberal-arts education can consist of learning from faculty, in any and every discipline, who embed the philosophy of a liberal-arts education into the very fabric of their course.  No course will be assumed to offer a liberal-arts worldview; faculty and departments can petition to have any of their courses considered. This will help everyone, faculty and students alike, remember that the best way to impart a liberal-arts education is by thoughtfully embedding it into a course, and by embodying it in our everyday life.

Remind me what’s the big deal with the Liberal Arts?

This is an important question. The word “arts” here does not refer to a piece of artwork or a performance art.  “Art” comes from the Latin artes, meaning skills or knowledge areas. “Liberal” comes from the Latin liberales, meaning a free or unconstrained mind or individual.  In other words, the liberal-arts education that Truman seeks to impart is one that will free the minds of our students!  Picture the things that entangle our minds — that destroy our mental freedom. Among others, these include a lack of information, willful ignorance, and emotions such as fear, prejudice, and doubt.  By specializing in academic content, we hope to overcome the information entanglement. By exposure to other cultures and to values such as mutual respect and love for one another, we can defeat the emotional trap.  By demonstrating the intrinsic value of education that results from the aforementioned, we can even combat the problem of willful ignorance. Our Dialogues hopes to lead students into skills and knowledge areas that will free their minds from the entanglements mentioned — the entanglements that all humans suffer from.

This is much more than just preparing students for jobs.  For me, personally, what I dream about at night is not trying to imagine ways that will increase the expected, future income stream of my students.  Because, let’s face it: Truman students are consistently at the top of their high school and post-Truman graduate classes, and at the top of the pay scales of the companies they inhabit.  They don’t need my help in this regard. What I dream about night is helping my students create beauty, relationships, love, respect — a more wonderful world.

The changes to our core curriculum have been carefully considered by faculty at all levels, and we truly believe that this change will offer tremendous benefits to every part of the Truman community. Here’s to the future!