- from the Northwest Ordinance, carved above the entrance to Angell Hall
The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan is a liberal arts college. Since 1841 the College has educated students in courses of study leading to the bachelor's degree. A faculty of two instructed six freshmen and one sophomore that first year in rhetoric, grammar, Latin and Greek literature and antiquities, algebra, geometry, surveying, natural science, ancient history, and Greek philosophy. A College faculty of more than 800 offers more than 3,200 courses to its 15,206 undergraduates (Fall Term, 1997 enrollment), nearly two-thirds the total undergraduate enrollment on the Ann Arbor campus. The emphasis on breadth of learning, evidenced by the variety of courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities required of students more than a century and a half ago, remains a hallmark of the liberal arts education.
However, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan is more than a traditional liberal arts college since it interacts with eighteen other schools and colleges of a large university. For example, in addition to the undergraduate curricula, graduate programs lead to the master's and doctoral degrees. These graduate programs offer more than opportunities for advanced study; they enhance the intellectual and academic atmosphere of the College. Professors teach both undergraduates and graduates. Research projects and some classes involve both undergraduates and graduates. The College provides an enriched education by way of these opportunities for undergraduates to associate with graduate students and a research faculty.
Students in the College do not simply elect a variety of courses from the multitude available to them in the University. They relate courses to one another in a way that enables each student to achieve breadth of understanding in several fields of study and depth in one or two. Students must not only perform satisfactorily in their courses; they must also plan programs of study which support broadly defined principles of distribution and concentration. Academic advisors assist students in designing such programs suited to their particular needs and interests.
The College sees its primary responsibility, then, as providing an excellent opportunity for students to achieve a liberal education. Not all educators agree on what constitutes a liberal education, but they do agree that it is neither too narrowly focused nor too diffuse. Students are therefore required to elect courses from a variety of departments and disciplines to ensure exposure to different ideas and ways of thinking. An English Composition requirement is common to all degrees, since educated men and women should be able to express themselves clearly in speech and writing in their own language.
Increased skill in the use of language may lead students to the study of literature, which reveals the avenues of thought and feeling that language can open. Some students will want to be able to understand, speak, read, and write a language other than their own, and be acquainted with the literature of that language. Mastery of a language increases subtlety of mind and sharpens sensitivity to the use and meaning of words in one's own language. Many students will also seek some historical perspective on their own times by studying the art, artifacts, and ideas of the civilizations from which their own have developed.
Because mathematics underlies many fields of study in the natural and social sciences and is increasingly useful to some humanists, most students will find further understanding of mathematics essential to their education. And just as they may couple language study with literature, they may couple mathematics with study in at least one of the natural or physical sciences whose creative efforts so dominate modern culture. It is in these areas, in fact, where human reason and imagination have made their most dramatic progress since the seventeenth century, but especially in the twentieth.
Finally, in order to understand the duties and problems facing them as members of a complex society, most students will want to investigate at least one of the social sciences. A variety of courses offering instruction in comparative social systems, governments, economies, histories, and cultures meets this end.
In designing their academic programs, liberal arts students plan for depth of study as well as breadth of scope. To study a subject in depth can be the most rewarding and liberating experience students can have, and one that may occupy them throughout their lives. Although students should not specialize to the neglect of distribution, knowledge advances by specialization, and students can gain some of the excitement of discovery by pressing toward the outer limits of human knowledge in some field. Close study of a seemingly narrow area of investigation will often disclose ramifications and connections that will alter perspectives on many other subjects. Such study also refines judgments and introduces students to processes for discovering new truths.
By graduating students with a liberal education, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts continues its long tradition of public responsibility. Established skills and knowledge are transmitted to these men and women throughout their undergraduate careers. They also develop their ability to think, to respond to ideas, and to test hypotheses. Individuals educated in this way will be able to live successfully in a rapidly changing world and to give it necessary leadership and vision.