As the value of a liberal arts education is debated in society, Michael Milde, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at Western, argues that studying literature, languages, philosophy and culture has tremendous value in preparing the next generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers.
Q. Why is the study of the arts and humanities important?
A. We believe that arts and humanities graduates will be key contributors to our social well-being.
Society is facing key challenges today – questions about climate change and economic downturns, and concerns about peaceful coexistence in a fragmented world. These are all human problems caused by human needs and commitments, and the right solutions require we come to terms with the nature of our humanity.
So we need to turn to our art, literature, languages and philosophy, where we encounter our humanity most directly, and where we can develop the kind of flexible imaginations that allow us to address the shifting facts and interpretations that shape our experience.
Q. What do you want students to achieve when they study the arts and humanities at Western?
A. We want them to have the richest and most stimulating academic experience of their lives – inspiring them to be global leaders and citizens, and to act as catalysts for change across Canada and around the world.
We see creativity as humanity’s greatest asset, its most renewable resource. So our goal is to harness this creative energy in our students so they can respond to social, technological, economic and cultural change with critical thinking, excellent communication and sound ethics.
Q. What makes the Faculty’s program extraordinary?
A. We are committed to engaging arts and humanities in the wider world. One example of this commitment is the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, which was established through a generous donation from Joseph Rotman, a Western alumnus and current University Chancellor.
At the Institute, philosophers engage with scientists to help address pressing moral and ethical questions. This kind of interdisciplinary work has helped Western rise to the top ranks in the world in philosophy of science (see related story).
Q. What new initiatives are strengthening the Faculty?
A. In the fall, we’re excited to welcome our first cohort of students to the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities. This initiative boldly asserts Western’s mission to harness the rich potential of the liberal arts as an essential partner to business, science and technology.
The first of its kind in Canada, the School combines interdisciplinary research with community service experiences, as well as second or third language acquisition with opportunities for international exchange and learning. It is nothing short of a revolutionary return to the ideal of a university education as preparation for creativity and innovation in the broadest, most powerful sense.
Q. During the Be Extraordinary campaign, what are your funding priorities?
A. On the research front, we’re looking for support for the Rotman Institute, particularly a research chair in philosophy of neuroscience to further develop our dialogue between scientists and philosophers on what it means to be conscious.
We also want to secure support for the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities to deliver the intensive and engaged education that will serve our students and society.
As well, we plan to enhance the range of student support – including bursaries and scholarships – to ensure every student can have access to our innovative courses and programs.
These priorities connect to our goal of preparing our students to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens who contribute to every part of society.
To discover how to support the Faculty Arts & Humanities, contact Jessica Schagerl, Alumni & Development Officer (519.661.2111, ext. 87896).
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