Director of Columbia’s Core Curriculum Highlights Importance of Liberal Arts

November 22, 2018

In November, Roosevelt Montás, director of the Center for the Core Curriculum gave a presentation in Chile on the relevance of multidisciplinary training in the liberal arts for all university degrees, and how this directly influences the future of society in forming critical minds and competent citizens.

Speaking at Chile’s Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (UAI), with which Columbia University has a collaboration partnership, Montás provided his vision of what liberal arts and liberal education should encompass. He explained that this idea arose from the first Greek democracy, where free men were to receive an education that would allow them to participate in the project of self-governance. "Liberal education is to teach self-governance in two senses: individual and collective. In the individual aspect, the liberal arts deliver tools for you to be able to manage your own freedom, while in the collective sense, the liberal arts give a person the instruments for the self-governance that a democratic society needs”, he said.

"With the liberal education model we teach at Columbia and Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, we present to the students how other people throughout history have faced this issue of human freedom”, Montás added. This, he asserted, entails the study of the different areas of the human experience, including philosophy, literature, the arts, history, theology, psychology and economics.

He also pointed out that modern democracies require that all citizens be equipped with the necessary virtues for self-government. "In the midst of the current trend of seeing education primarily as preparation for work, we must remember that without liberal education we simply cannot sustain a democracy or a free society... The liberal arts, as the foundation of education, have never been more important or more essential than today. We have to reevaluate the role of universities in our society and do everything possible to promote liberal education."

Following Montas' presentation, Columbia Global Centers Santiago director Karen Poniachik participated in a roundtable discussion, moderated by María José Naudon, director of General Education at UAI´s Liberal Arts School, regarding the main ideas put forward by Montás and the value that training Chilean professionals in liberal arts has. Other participants included Luis Hernán Cubillos, co-founder of Egon Zehnder Chile, José Luis del Río, president and CEO of Inder, and Gonzalo Larraguibel, partner at Virtus Partners.

The Core Curriculum is a set of common courses required of all undergraduates at Columbia College and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. Communal learning and critical dialogue are the distinctive features of the Core, begun in 1917, when the United States was debating its entry into World War I. A required course titled “Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West” emerged to encourage Columbia students to consider for themselves the fundamental issues in conflict. Since then, the Core Curriculum at Columbia University has expanded to include non-western cultures, science components, and numerous other areas. This module offers a significant degree of shared experience between all students who have attended Columbia University.

Use this link to read more or see the video of the full conference, both in Spanish.

See images here