My latest Quartz at Work piece begins:
“Work is fundamental to who you are and who you will become,” Bates College president Clayton Spencer told freshmen who had just arrived at the small liberal arts college in 2013. And, she continued, “I hope you realize by now that you have been working all of your life.” These freshmen, she assured them on that autumn day, were about to embark on their “college careers,” which would soon usher them into their professional careers.
Nothing may seem out of the ordinary about Spencer’s remarks, but from the vantage point afforded us by history, we can see how unusual it is for a liberal arts college to ground its existence in work.
The liberal arts, until relatively recently, were regarded as “liberal” to the degree that they taught students that some things in life, being good in themselves, were not done because they were useful or necessary but entirely for their own sake. The liberal arts took as its purpose that of introducing students to a space of freedom beyond expediency, practicality, and utility. Work, therefore, had nothing to do with it.
Sadly, pretty much all that was liberal (or “free”) about the liberal arts has since withered away, and now they live on mostly in name only, and only so long as they’re deemed useful.
How did the liberal arts meet their death?
You can read the rest of the piece here.