WIUM Tristates Public Radio

In Praise of a Liberal Arts Education

Mar 19, 2015

This is an open letter to State lawmakers Norine Hammond and John Sullivan:     

As an alumna and faculty member of Western Illinois University's College of Arts and Sciences, I ask you to consider my testament to the value of Western's liberal arts-based education. 

Meaningful degrees rooted in the liberal arts are not cheap, but the returns are great:  citizens who achieve high-quality careers and raise revenue for the public good-- citizens who care deeply about their neighbors, the state of Illinois, our nation, and the world.

Western’s excellent liberal arts-based education has always been public, and we continue to merit generous state funding.  However, Governor Rauner’s demand that Western slash jobs and programs is unprecedented and fails to protect over a century of educational investment and love of learning.

In the summer of 1987, my family moved into the parsonage of Macomb’s First Christian Church.   As a preacher’s kid, I had moved 5 times in 18 years, but here, I assimilated easily:  Macomb was small, accepting, friendly, and slow-paced, but because of Western, offered the cultural events, intellectual excitement, and hint of diversity of a big city.  

WIU supports a love or learning throughout Macomb.  More than in any other church my father had led, the people of the Macomb First Christian loved stories and theological depth and wanted my dad to preach, teach, and lead in a way that was consistent with his rigorous theological training. 

Holly Stovall
Credit Rich Egger

The summer of 1987, having abandoned plans to attend college in Texas, I signed up for Dr. Karen Mann’s General Honors seminar at Western.  Her class was on par with any freshman seminar I could have taken in Texas, New York, or California.  We did not memorize facts, rules or procedures; rather, we made meaning.  After 25 years, I quote her verbatim to my students.

In the summer of 1987, I met Macomb High graduate Tom Sadler, who was also enrolled as a freshman at Western and after ten years of study and travel, we would marry.  Tom’s father, Charles Sadler, had been a History professor here and his mother, Judy Sadler, was a principal in Macomb schools.  Like many Macomb families today, Tom’s parents were a literal marriage of town and gown. 

Tom and I often talk about how much we appreciated our liberal arts professors at Western.  They taught us that we teach and learn through a relationship of trust and respect, through a willingness to engage and challenge each other– to solve problems together.  We must continue this legacy.

We must teach all Western students to weigh their choices in the context of globalization, climate change, and social inequalities.  Professors of the liberal arts teach students to seek meaning and to cultivate friendships across boundaries of political ideology, race, class, sexuality and gender.  In a world growing ever more complicated, these friendships are priceless.

Today, the humanities are more important than ever.  Literature professors teach future police officers, business leaders, and nurses to think empathetically.  Professors of philosophy show teachers how to question poor logic, and accountants learn to think more deeply about ethics.  Religion classes teach non-judgmental acceptance. 

Western has cultivated stronger bonds between faculty and students than our counterparts have, and our hallmark must be that we continue to care about students and share our love of learning with them.  We have relied on the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty to inspire students to seek and discover meaning.  Please guarantee funding so that the liberal arts-based education of Western Illinois University may continue to prepare all our graduates to make a positive impact on the world.

Holly Stovall is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or the university.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.