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Honorary doctorate degree recipient Professor Valerie Smith shares on challenges and prospects of liberal arts education at HKBU distinguished lecture
The School of Communication held the 60th Anniversary Shun Hing Distinguished Lecture on 15 November with Professor Valerie Smith, President of Swarthmore College, USA and this year’s recipient of HKBU’s Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, speaking on “Liberal Arts Education: Challenges and Prospects”. This is one of the distinguished lectures in the series supported by the Shun Hing Education and Charity Fund.
At the lecture, Professor Smith shared with the audience her views on what liberal arts education could achieve and the challenges faced by higher education institutions that provide a liberal arts education. She said that the core mission of liberal arts institutions is to teach students to think critically, to solve problems, to develop a lifelong habit of intellectual engagement, and to work in collaboration with others. The liberal arts institutions also prepare students for life’s unanticipated disappointments, developments and opportunities. To this end, these institutions introduce students to a broad range of disciplines before they select a specific area of concentration; to push them beyond their zones of comfort and to require them to gain some familiarity with multiple ways of knowing. As president of a liberal arts college, she believes this approach can expand students’ intellectual horizons and prepare them well for whatever vocation they might ultimately choose.
Professor Smith mentioned that liberal arts institutions should provide opportunities beyond the classroom to help students develop into productive and responsible citizens. These co-curricular interactions often provide opportunities for personal, intellectual and ethical growth that may be as significant as the lessons they learn in the classroom. She suggested that a more appropriate measure of the value of a liberal arts education is to look at graduates and see how well that exposure to different ways of thinking and perspectives, diverse knowledge, and experience of the world has inspired their creativity and developed their resilience.
The lecture was followed by a panel discussion facilitated by Dr Albert Chau, Vice-President (Teaching and Learning), with the presence of Professor Smith together with Professor Pericles Lewis, President of Yale-NUS College, Singapore; Professor Cheng Kai-ming, Emeritus Professor of Division of Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education of the University of Hong Kong; and Professor Roland Chin, President of HKBU. They shared their views on how liberal arts education can be better received by students, parents, funding bodies and society; and how to design comprehensive and balanced curricula.
Members of the panel discussion share their views on the challenges facing by the liberal arts education: (from left) Dr Albert Chau, Professor Pericles Lewis, Professor Valerie Smith, Professor Cheng Kai-ming and Professor Roland Chin
Professor Valerie Smith speaks on “Liberal Arts Education: Challenges and Prospects”