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Plea for liberal arts

Plea for liberal arts


Is there a crisis in higher education? Are students being ‘made’ into citizens who are only after the latest iPhone and a really well-paid job? In her latest book - Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities - American philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues for broad bachelor's studies with a good measure of philosophy, art and literature. These so-called liberal arts studies, like the Dutch University Colleges, are supposed to train students to become critical, independent, open-minded and socially involved people. Is Nussbaum right?

Rector Gerard Mols reckons that Nussbaum’s analysis does not apply to Maastricht. “In our tutorial groups, questions are asked, students think things through, discuss social issues. Graduates should have a critical attitude, be able to recognise and distinguish problems. Why is Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment not compulsory reading for first-year law students?”

Emeritus professor of physiology Ger van der Vusse and some colleagues have written an article about academic education in the medical curriculum that will be published next month. “It is important that doctors of medicine are able to reflect on their discipline, making use of history, ethics, health law and the philosophy of science, to participate in the discussion about the important matters in life and want to share his knowledge with others. It is always about responsibility, being critical, honesty, resisting fraud, reflection.”

Wim Groot, professor of health economics, does not see a crisis in education and is not impressed with Nussbaum’s book. Too paternalistic, too black-and-white. “Surely it is possible to prepare students both for the labour market and for a responsible citizenship! And then all those jeers about European education for not having a liberal arts system. That particular part of education is included in the pre-university phase, which has a higher level than the American high schools. What I would like to see is that professors teach more, because of the inspiring effect they can have on students.”

Together with study association Orakel and Observant, Studium Generale is organising the SG Science Café about Martha Nussbaum’s book Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities on Tuesday 29 November. The discussion will take place in the Selexyz Dominicanen bookstore and starts at 20.00hrs. Free entrance.


Riki Janssen/Maurice Timmermans



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