One Seedling at a Time
Typically, you’ll get two reactions while telling someone that you’re a student of the Liberal Arts College (L.A.C.). The first is a puzzled stare. The second is a follow-up question implying you may somehow be skilled with a paintbrush. Faced with this conversational dilemma, you have two options: you go through the effort of explaining your broad field of study in its entirety, or you can simply nod and smile. As anyone studying at the L.A.C. will tell you, it’s hard to encapsulate the full College experience in one piece of writing. That said, it’s safe to say that for the past couple of decades the Liberal Arts College, one of Concordia’s “hidden gems,” has been a second home to many budding graduate students who go on to develop a life-long enthusiasm for learning and debate.
The well-rounded education the Liberal Arts College provides attracts some of the most passionate students and professors North America has to offer. The College’s tight-knit discussion-based classes leave the L.A.C.’s students rarely wanting in the capabilities of their amiable professors and peers. The Liberal Arts College has many qualities that make it a unique, compelling, educational experience for the people who choose to study there. But what does the Liberal Arts College really stand for? There is one simple yet wonderfully loaded phrase that really gets to the heart of what defines the Liberal Arts College’s curriculum, faculty and students:
The entirety of the College’s curriculum is dedicated to the power that ideas hold. This mandate is almost audacious in scope: to help students develop a strong understanding of the intellectual, philosophical and cultural movements that serve as the foundation of the Western world. The founders of the College, a team of eight faculty members spearheaded by Dr. Frederick Krantz and the late Dr. Harvey Shulman, held a common sentiment regarding the state of the undergraduate education in the 1970’s. These professors believed it was very problematic to expect students, who most likely did not have a strong interdisciplinary education, choose a Major immediately upon entering university. Professor Krantz considers it to still be a problem today. Too many students are unaware of what they want ‘to do’, and soon suffer intense discouragement and frustration from spending all of their energies studying something they do not enjoy. The founders of the college considered the Liberal Arts College an opportunity for students to fill the gaps in their knowledge, allowing them to make properly informed decisions, both academically and otherwise. It is important to note that the Liberal Arts College was never meant to serve as a stepping-stone, but rather as an opportunity to lay down a solid intellectual foundation.
The educational approach envisioned by this team has since come to fruition: to expose students to an almost overwhelming array of schools of thought. Classes at the L.A.C. challenge students to engage with the development of (primarily) Western thought from the ground up, turning them into informed, critical thinkers. As a student of Western culture, the great minds that are studied chisel away at one’s brain, sculpting its thought processes into a cerebral statue of David.
The methodology grounded in the Great Books is what makes all this possible. Unlike many survey courses, the L.A.C. helps students foster an intimate connection with the powerful ideas shaping Western society by assigning primary source texts as the bulk of required reading. Though there are many Liberal Arts Colleges in North America, Concordia’s L.A.C. is still quite unique, offering a full program with a set curriculum, and ranging concentrations from Minor to Honours. Based around the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, like an opera, the College beautifully pulls all the individual areas of knowledge together.
The merging of Loyola and Sir George Williams University opened up the space for the curriculum to be created, but bringing forth the idea of the L.A.C. into reality was no easy process. It took a full two years to construct a syllabus that satisfied everyone involved, and during that time there was no shortage of obstacles hindering its progress.
The founding committee insisted on having their own building and library, and would not stand to offer less than a Major in Western Society and Culture. Opposition was plentiful: other programs were clearly afraid of losing students to this new program. Providing an entire building to a new and untested group from a small university was a large commitment for Concordia. There were even suggestions that implementing a set curriculum instead of allowing students to choose their credits made the Liberal Arts College ‘undemocratic.’
The L.A.C. founding professors’ dedication to the power of ideas ultimately ensured their plan for the College would come to fruition. The L.A.C. started as a thought: it then germinated into a conversation among like-minded individuals, and finally flourished in the form of a complete project that was proposed to a new and changing Concordia University. This excerpt taken from the L.A.C. dossier given to Concordia in 1978 makes allusion to this institution’s dedication to great ideas:
The L.A.C. committee members have given freely and enthusiastically of their time and energies, above and beyond their normal academic duties. They would not have done so, of course, had they not been genuinely committed to the vision of undergraduate education contained herein, and confident that it represented an exciting contribution to current problems facing both Faculty and University.
The founders of the L.A.C. were committed to their project, and to the importance of the ideas showcased in the L.A.C.’s readings. All the professors involved were teaching full time during the creation of this institution, and continued to do so while teaching Liberal Arts courses for the first ten years or so, with a slight raise in pay not fully compensating for their time devoted to it.
All of the students and professors at the L.A.C. can attest to the mark that this department has had on their lives, in the same way that they can attest to how the great books they’ve studied have affected how they understand their surroundings. It’s hard to explain the depth of the L.A.C. experience to someone who has never heard of the institution, or even of the Liberal Arts as a unique discipline. It’s not simply the L.A.C.’s complex academic nature that makes it hard to explain; the very spirit of the College itself often escapes the grasp of words. At its heart, the Liberal Arts College is a love for ideas, but it is also a love for people. It extends its roots through every available crevice, instilling a greater understanding of the world into the people it touches. Wherever there is a Liberal Arts Student, there is a seed planted, germinating a dedication to culture and people. Wherever there is a Liberal Arts Student, there is someone who truly believes that ideas matter.
By Koichi Sato and Zachary Garoufalis