Page 1


A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer On Liberal Education BY ROBERT L. HARDGRAVE, JR. This speech, made at the University of Texas, Austin, College of Liberal Arts Honors Day ceremony on April 9, 1988, was also the occasion on which Bernard Rapoport and his wife, Audre, were selected for the Pro Bene Meritis award. Three weeks ago, at the end of spring break, I flew back to Austin from Dallas with a planeload of students. In front of me was a young woman, freshly tanned and bubbling over with enthusiasm about her week in South Padre. Soon after we were in the air, a young man in a blue blazer and tie came back from the forward section of the plane and stopped by the row in front of me. Addressing the tanned young woman, he said that she had been pointed out to him as a student at the University of Texas. He identified himself as a high school senior from Connecticut who had applied for admission to UT and he was on his way down to visit the campus. “Tell me about it,” he said, and the young woman, with enthusiasm, declared, “Oh, it a great university party, party, party.” I leaned forward and, in a stage whisper, said: “Watch out, there’s a spy behind you.” What I really wanted to say to that young man came out of my own experience as a student and a teacher. I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas back in the 1950s. It had never occurred to me that I might go anywhere else. Texas was “the” University, and I would be a third generation UT student. I went to high school in Sonora about 200 miles west of Austin and graduated in what was, till then, the largest class in the school’s history 31. There were 14,000 students at the University of Texas when I entered in 1956, and I was bewildered at the array of courses. How many more there are today, when at registration this semester students could choose among 9,000 classes The challenge for the undergraduate liberal arts student without a prescribed curriculum is to shape a program that embraces both breadth and, at the same time, an experience of depth in an academic discipline. How do you pick and choose to give that degree coherence and integrity for an education is surely more than 120 hours and a 3.5 or even a 4.0 GPA. All courses are not created equal. What are the aims of education? Broadly, they involve the creation of the critical, inquiring, and informed mind. We might all agree on certain goals: to sharpen the intellect and stretch the imagination; to develop “the ability to communicate orally and in capacity for careful analysis”; to foster the development of maturity in judgment and values; to cultivate an appreciation of the fine arts; and to develop habits of mind that enable us \(as Carl Kaysen motivated and self-directed way.” Education, after all, doesn’t stop when we get a degree. But there is another component of liberal education the mastery of that body of knowledge that in some way defines who we are as a people, as a civilization that body of knowledge which is our common heritage. In the relatively short period of time since I was a student at UT at least it seems like a short time to me knowledge has expanded enormously. And it has become increasingly difficult to identify a common core of knowledge that we agree upon as what every liberally education person should share. In that same span of time hardly more than 30 years knowledge has become increasingly compartmentalized more highly specialized and less accessible to the educated layman. Another change is the much greater diversity of the student body racial, religious, and ethnic diversity. I entered UT in the first year that Blacks were enrolled in the undergraduate program. There were a few Hispanics and almost no Asian-Americans. Today the campus is much more nearly a cross-section of our state and nation. In the debates on undergraduate education, some people have argued that the expansion of knowledge, increased specialization, and the diversity of student backgrounds preclude any consideration of a “core curriculum” or any notion that there can or should be some body of shared knowledge at the heart of liberal education. I disagree. These very factors make it all the more imperative that through liberal education we come to share a common bond in knowledge of our human heritage not one bounded by Europe or ending in the 18th century, but one that embraces the highest achievement of human civilization. To be without knowledge of India’s Bhagavad Gita or of the sublime achievements of ancient Chinese art is to be intellectually and culturally impoverished, as would be lack of knowledge of Aristotle, St. Augustine, or Michelangelo. The challenge for that young man on the airplane and for each of us in higher education, students and teachers is to give serious thought to what it means to be a liberally educated human being. With guidance and judgment, a student at the University of Texas can shape a program that embodies the best that any university can offer. The opportunity is here. I don’t know whether that young man will come next fall to the University of Texas. I hope he does. Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr., is Professor of Government and Asian Studies, the University of Texas at Austin. American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 206, WACO, TEXAS 76703, 617.772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 4 DECEMBER 9, 1988