Liberal Arts Core

Purpose by Category

Category 1: Core Competencies
Category 2: Civilizations and Cultures
Category 3: Fine Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Religion
Category 4: Natural Science and Technology
Category 5: Social Science
Category 6: Capstone Experience

1. Core Competencies

An understanding of and competence in the processes by which messages are generated, transmitted, received, and used is basic to any advanced civilization. Every active member of any society needs to acquire and transmit information. How effectively that information is communicated and understood is a major determinant of the level at which members of society can participate in dealing with the great issues which confront that society and the level of achievement to which that society can reasonably aspire.

Two areas of communication are of primary significance: 1) written and oral communications and 2) quantitative communications which include probability and statistics. If humans are to live responsibly and joyfully, fulfilling their promise as individuals and as citizens and leaders in a democratic society, they must develop these abilities. The higher the level to which undergraduates develop these abilities, the greater is the likelihood of their being lifelong students who are not dependent on information they collect in college.

The development of abilities in written and oral communications must be based upon critical thinking and logical reasoning. Students must have the opportunity to develop further their thinking, reasoning, writing, speaking, reading, and listening skills through practice and performance which is subjected to frequent and individual evaluation. They need to develop the ability to prepare messages for varied audiences, with varying purposes in a variety of contexts. As consumers of communication, they need to develop their abilities to interpret, analyze, evaluate, and enjoy messages they receive.

The quantitative communications area should develop students' ability to use and understand numerical data and make them aware of the ways in which numerical data increasingly make accessible levels of knowledge which were previously unobtainable. Students should also develop an alertness for the misuse, manipulation, and multiple interpretations of numerical data. The concepts of degree of risk, distribution, uncertainty, orders of magnitude, rates of change, and confidence levels and acceptability should be included in the competencies to be achieved by students.

Students should develop an understanding and appreciation of personal wellness as a lifestyle, consciously chosen, in which one takes advantage of the opportunities to maximize holistic health. Personal wellness focuses on bringing actions into closer harmony with underlying values, needs and interests.

Through experiences which integrate knowledge, values, feelings and skills, students should examine factors affecting their own personal wellness and quality of life. These experiences should include: (a) an assessment component to evaluate and monitor present status; (b) a knowledge component which systematically examines exercise science, nutrition, motor behavior, stress and leisure; and (c) a laboratory component which provides a variety of activity experiences. It is essential that from these experiences students develop the knowledge necessary for making informed decisions about a positive lifestyle, the skills necessary to implement these decisions, and an awareness of the resources and services available to facilitate the pursuit of attainable levels of wellness.



2. Civilizations and Cultures

The Civilizations and Cultures component of the Liberal Arts Core integrates the areas of social science, humanities, and the fine arts and should promote an understanding and appreciation of the development, accomplishments, and failures of Western and non-Western civilizations.

To develop an understanding of our Western European heritage, students should be guided through the philosophy, religion, literature, and the fine arts of the great periods of civilization--ancient times, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation to current times.

The study of a non-Western culture will be in the context of a specific culture, such as China, India, The Middle East, or Africa. Courses in non-Western cultures should deal holistically with the culture studied.

A primary objective should be the development of attitudes, concepts and methodologies needed to understand any society different from our own. It is important for students to examine the manner in which various segments of a sociocultural system relate to each other and to the environmental and historical processes operating on them.

Students should develop the ability to relate the accomplishments of civilizations to the circumstances influencing the development of humanity. In the process of that development, they should progress toward becoming a part of the process of elevating the quality of human life.



3. Fine Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Religion

The fine arts address that aspect of human life which celebrates the perception of the visual, audible, and tactile world. The arts open the eyes and ears of students to the beauty of the natural world as well as to the worlds of imagination created by the genius of the artist. In painting and sculpture, in ceramics and print-making, in drama, music, theatre, and dance, the human spirit has sought to manipulate the world of sensation and perception in ways that invite us to hear and see in a new manner. We look for the significance of form, for the shock of expression, and for the meaning of color and sound. The fine arts also include the attempts of the artist and the observers of art to discover the meaning of the arts. These meanings emerge in the history of art, in the critical study of the value of the arts, and through attention to the revelation of truth to reality specific to art forms.

Literature, while often exhibiting an aesthetic dimension, differs from most other arts in its focus on communicating about the whole range of human experience through discursive language. Literature takes many forms, as, for example, the novel, the epic, the short story, poetry, and the essay.

Literature opens a window of understanding that uniquely illuminates the human experience of the cultural past as well as the present. Comparative world literatures, in particular, invite the attention of the student to varieties of human experience that lead to multicultural insight beyond the range of his or her own cultural limitations. As in the case of the fine arts, the study of literature is not merely reading for comprehension. The study of literature includes its criticism and its history.

Philosophy, like literature, explores human experience and the whole human cosmos by using language to confront the basic questions of meaning and value. Philosophy approaches person and world reflectively, with an attitude of questioning and doubt. Refusing to take for granted the received and customary assumptions of any historical culture, philosophy seeks to find reasoned answers to persistent and perennial human concerns. Such questions include, for example, the nature of justice and the good, the structure of reality, the nature and existence of deity, and the nature of the human self in its world. While philosophy often attempts to construct a complete system of explanation, it is at the same time a critic of all systems -- including its own. Human reason itself does not escape such criticism. Students of philosophy quickly discover that searching out the questions is as important, perhaps more important, than outlining answers. As a result, the aims of any course in philosophy must center on the insistence that the student think critically for himself or herself, becoming aware in the process of the vicissitudes of value and meaning in his or her own life.

Religion, as an object of study, resembles philosophy in its focus on the expression of human experience and the cosmos, meaning and value.  At the same time it resembles literature and the fine arts in its use of linguistic, visual, audible, and material forms, images, dramatic and narrative sequences, and the like as its means of expression.  Unlike philosophy, it centers on living forms of belief and expression rather than on the mode of critical questioning; unlike the arts, its images and enactments primarily arise from and participate in the traditions and community practices of the people involved rather than from individual acts of imaginative creation and appreciation.  The academic study of religion combines the critical and historical examination of texts and practices with reflective consideration of the ideas of human being and the world implicit in them.  Historical and cross cultural in scope, it aids the student in achieving an informed and reflective perspective on her or his background and tradition and at the same time focuses on a key element of the problem of intercultural understanding.

Study of the fine arts, literature, philosophy and religion are thus essential parts of the Liberal Arts Core that aims to reflect human wholeness. Each of these disciplines aims to reveal to the student a range of human experience that presents a view of the world distinct from, while yet complementary to, the thrust of the natural and social sciences.

Finally, it should be reemphasized that the fine arts, literature, philosophy and religion aim to do more than encourage passive reception of knowledge and information. So far as possible, students should have opportunities to experience the challenges that confront an artist who creates an aesthetic object. Students should not only read literary works, but actively speak and write as apprentice literary critics. Students of philosophy, likewise, need not only acquaintance with the history of philosophy but, in addition, an opportunity to philosophize for themselves.  While it is not similarly appropriate for an academic course to encourage participation in the beliefs and practices of religion, students are invited to discover for themselves the applications of the materials studied in the course to the interpretation of their own perspectives on meanings and values and to the understanding of their own traditions.



4. Natural Science and Technology

In a highly technological society, science plays an enormous role in how things are done and how we view and come to understand the natural world around us. Through the activities of science, humans have learned to control certain aspects of their environment, have produced understandings with great promise for the future, and have unleashed posers that threaten to end all civilization. Issues of great political, social, and religious significance have arisen from the scientific endeavor. To develop an informed awareness of the interconnectedness of all aspects of the human and natural environments and the forces that operate in nature and society, students must understand science, how it operates, its inherent values, it limits, and its credibility. Since it is impossible to separate the process of science from the body of knowledge generated by this process, principles, concepts, and factual material of selected disciplines must also be part of the Liberal Arts Core.

The content of the natural science component of the Liberal Arts Core should assure that students learn the following:

  1. Science is a process of learning about the universe and consists of more than the collection of information in textbooks.

  2. The formulation of testable hypotheses which can be supported or refuted by evidence is a necessary part of the scientific process.

  3. Science has validity and merit within the limits in which it operates and is quite different from the pseudoscience which has been offered to the public in recent years.

  4. Modes of thinking in the sciences include the use of classification schemes, the collection and analysis of numerical data in many forms, the skeptical approach to all tentative conclusions, a creative imagination, and an understanding of the difference between observation and inference.

  5. The process of science is not conducted in a vacuum, but rather, by humans who have all the characteristics of other humans and who live in societies largely governed by non-scientific influences. The scientific enterprise is intimately connected to all other human activities.

  6. There is a relationship between science and technology, and these entities interact with the larger society.

Within these courses, the students should have at least one laboratory experience.



5. Social Science

The social science component of the Liberal Arts Core should contribute to our students' knowledge and understanding of themselves as (1) unique human beings and their interpersonal relationships and the pluralistic culture in which they live; (2) the major local, national and international social, economic, and political institutions that shape their lives and welfare; (3) the complex interactions that develop among individuals, science and technology, and their social and natural environments; (4) and the breadth and diversity of human values and institutions expressed in the many cultures and countries of the world.

Students should also understand and identify relationships between the past, present, and future to further their understanding of their world and the roles that they play in their own society and in the world. Such understandings will enhance their ability to think critically, realize the importance of historical consciousness, make informed choices, examine and evaluate their values, assume the responsibilities of citizenship, and promote change in their community, country and world.

Students should also become aware that the principal way in which social science advances knowledge is through the systematic study of human behavior utilizing scientific methods, including historiography. They should understand the application of this method to the study of human beings and their social institutions, appreciating both its strengths and limitations. Students should gain experience in research, that is, the use of original sources, surveys, and other social science methodologies and be encouraged to develop and utilize skills in inquiry, critical analysis, and logical thinking.



6. Capstone Experience

The Capstone Experience is a university-wide endeavor organized as a distinct part of the Liberal Arts Core and designed as an aid in preparing UNI students for the complex world of ideas that should engage them during their lives as educated citizens. Therefore, all Capstone courses should be intellectually challenging and promote development of higher-order thinking skills; make student disciplinary diversity a strength of its design; link theory to practice through applied problem-solving activities; and promote the development of skills and dispositions associated with self-directed, life-long learning.

Capstone courses provide opportunities for students to synthesize the diverse realms of thought they have studied and to apply the intellectual proficiencies they have acquired. The emphasis is on cultivating life-long learning through linking theory and academic preparation to practical problem-solving activities in multidisciplinary seminars or community-based learning courses.