College of Arts & Sciences

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Liberal Arts FAQs

The College of Arts & Sciences is committed to providing students with a first-rate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.  Below are answers to basic questions about liberal education.

  1. What is a liberal arts education?
  2. Where did liberal arts education originate?
  3. Isn't liberal arts education an old-fashioned idea?
  4. How does liberal arts education serve the individual?
  5. How does liberal arts education serve society?
  6. Are there examples of liberal arts grads from USD who have achieved professional distinction?
  7. How does the USD support liberal arts education?
What is a liberal arts education?

Liberal education has nothing to do with liberal or conservative politics; rather, it refers to the simple idea of a broad and well-rounded education.  The fundamental goal is liberating a person from ignorance and superstition. 

Where did liberal arts education originate?

The roots of liberal arts education in western civilization are usually traced to ancient Greece, where political philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle wrote of the need for citizens to become broadly educated and pursue truth. As part of this tradition, universities discover new knowledge and advance our understanding of the world through critical thinking, experiments, sound reasoning, and the scientific method.  

The other dimension of liberal education is usually traced to the Roman orator Cicero, who is usually credited with coining the phrase "liberal arts" education. He argued that a well-educated person would lead a more informed and fulfilling life, and be a better citizen. As part of this tradition, universities teach civic virtue, ethics, responsibility, tolerance, and stewardship.

Isn't liberal arts education an old-fashioned idea?

No. Liberal arts education is more vital than ever. On average, people change careers six times in their lives.  And problems have become more complex, with the best solutions often requiring knowledge of several academic disciplines. Learning a specific trade is the old-fashioned idea. It is rare that a person can practice the same trade throughout his/her lifetime. Today's students are much better served by gaining knowledge and a skill set that prepares them to meet the endless challenges of a rapidly changing world.

How does liberal arts education serve the individual?
  • By expanding social, cultural, and scientific horizons.
  • By providing a broad base of knowledge, along with analytical and communications skills that support any career.
  • By inspiring continued learning, based on increased intellectual curiosity.
  • By instilling a greater appreciation for other cultures.
  • By preparing undergraduates for graduate study in many Arts & Sciences disciplines, or for further study in professional schools, such as medicine or law. 
How does liberal arts education serve society?
  • By providing broadly educated citizens with fresh perspectives and creative solutions to problems.
  • By enriching life through literature and language.
  • By instilling a deep appreciation of our democratic traditions, in a world where tyranny too often exists.
  • By increasing scientific literacy in an era of human history where the pace of scientific understanding is breathtaking.
  • By promoting high ethical standards and conduct.
Are there examples of liberal arts grads from USD who have achieved professional distinction?

The College of Arts & Sciences has more than 20,000 living alumni, many of whom have achieved great professional distinction. Here are a few examples:

  • 11 South Dakota governors.
  • 20 members of Congress.
  • All sitting justices of the S.D. Supreme Court.
  • More than 100 Rhodes, Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater, Boren, Udall and Gilman scholars.
  • Several specific Arts & Sciences graduates:
    • Tom Brokaw, NBC News
    • Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today
    • Joe Foss, war hero, football commissioner, and governor
    • Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence, winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics
    • Dan Crippen, Director of the National Governor's Association
    • Lori Kumar, Senior Director of Research, Pfizer
    • Linda Hasselstrom, freelance writer
How does the USD support liberal arts education?
  • USD is the designated by mission as the public liberal arts institution of South Dakota.
  • USD signed the Campaign for the Advancement of Liberal Learning (CALL), a pledge by more than 500 college and university presidents to promote liberal education in this century. No other public higher education institution in South Dakota signed the CALL.
  • USD is also the home of the state's only Phi Beta Kappa Society chapter (Alpha of South Dakota, chartered in 1926). This is the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society for undergraduates demonstrating excellence in the liberal arts and sciences.

For additional information, search the Internet for "Liberal Arts & Sciences FAQs."