Celebrating the Success of the Liberal Arts

Pacific’s innovative, interdisciplinary Raymond College marks its 50th Anniversary
Raymond College

Students getting ready for the annual fremshman camping trip at Raymond College. The College, which offered a liberal arts degree, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend.

by Patrick GiblinAug 3, 2012
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The former chief executive officer of an international corporation; the deputy chief executive officer at SETI; a nationally recognized sculptor with works in dozens of cities.

These are professions that span a range of disciplines, with seemingly no direct connection. But as alumni of University of the Pacific's pioneering Raymond College, they are unified by one commonality: a liberal arts degree.

Today, they will join other graduates of the College, which boasts surgeons, judges and prominent professors among its alumni, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding.

It's not unusual to see a diverse sampling of professions at a college reunion. But what makes this gathering unique is that Raymond College, which operated from 1962 to 1978 before being absorbed by The College of the Pacific, offered just one degree - a bachelor's in liberal arts.

In recent years, the political and social dialogue has not been kind to the liberal arts. Disciplines like political science, anthropology, comparative literature, English, philosophy, history, performance and art have come under attack by pundits, columnists and politicians -and even Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

They have declared that liberal arts programs should not be offered at colleges. Nor should they receive any public funding, unless those students are studying science, which also is considered a liberal art.

"Hold on!" several Raymond graduates might say. The liberal arts are precisely what made them successful.

A Liberal Arts Lens Advances Scientific Achievements

"The key underpinnings to scientific advances and translating medical research in areas like microbiology into improved health are creativity, communication and problem solving abilities," said Gerald Pier '70, a Professor of Medicine (Microbiology and Immunobiology) at Harvard Medical School, and a Raymond graduate. "A liberal arts education is critical to acquiring these skills."

And those skills have been critical in advancing science.  Pier notes that in 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared control of infectious diseases as the number one public health achievement of the 20th century, responsible for much of the increased life expectancy of almost 30 years that occurred in that century.

This was only possible, he said, because scientists, often with the benefit of a small-college, liberal arts education, had learned the communication skills that convinced cultural and political leaders the value of their research. 

"There is no successful academic scientist in the past one hundred-plus years who has not benefited from the legion of research investigators who have used their liberal arts education to further these efforts," Pier added

A liberal arts background contributes to understanding the perspectives and challenges of those in other fields, which in turn lead to better collaboration across professions and more creative solutions, said L. Adrienne Cupples '65, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology for Boston University School of Public Health, and a Raymond graduate. 

"It is important for me to be able to communicate to individuals who do not have the technical knowledge that I have," Cupples said. "Without the broad perspective and seminar style classes of Raymond College where we discussed all sorts of ideas, I would not be as capable a biostatistician as I have become."

A Wide-Range of Success Fashioned from the Liberal Arts

A recent study from Duke University supports the idea that a liberal arts degree is a strong foundation for success in a number of professions. Fewer than 47 percent of corporate executives and product developers held degrees in math, science, technology or engineering, which are the fields that are often cited by critics as the professions that create the most industry leaders. Instead, the majority of them studied a liberal art or business, the study found.

But it doesn't take a study to see how many liberal arts academics have become leaders. President Ronald Reagan, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, astronaut John Glenn and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all emerged from a liberal arts background.

And the late Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs often credited his employees who had backgrounds in liberal arts for the success of his company.

 "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices," Jobs said during a presentation at a technology symposium.

Liberal arts programs are strong at Pacific. The College of the Pacific is the largest of the schools that make up the University, recently launched a Humanities Scholars program which allows students to earn degrees in specific liberal arts fields in three years.

While Raymond College is now part of Pacific's history, the subjects it offered and the passion for the liberal arts remain strong on the Stockton campus. As Raymond graduates gather to honor their alma mater this weekend, they will also be celebrating the liberal arts and the success born from their degree.

"Since I ultimately became a scientist, my mother asked me if going to Raymond was a mistake.  It was definitely not a mistake," reflects Cupples. "The liberal arts education that I received at Raymond College provided me with a grounding, a broad perspective that has enabled my career in biostatistics. I am deeply indebted to Raymond College."

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