on the liberal arts



Rapidly and with pictures, and NB maths, astronomy, music, logic = how to think + abstract + analyse

The medieval model translates more or less to 21st century arts or liberal arts, even here at UBC.

Logic, grammar, rhetoric, and music translate to philosophy, thought (political etc. and some of psychology), languages, literatures, cultural studies (inc. First Nations studies, classics, anthropology, history, art history and theory, geography, much of economics, many fields whose names end in “…studies”), politics, international relations, and the creative and performing arts (including music of course).

Half of STEM belongs firmly in a faculty of arts: mathematics (via the quadrivial arithmetic and geometry) and science (via physica a.k.a. astronomy). Let’s put the S&M back into the liberal arts!

Utopianism: irrealism, universalism, idealism. Thélème.

American 18th-19th c. liberal arts. Anti-slavery. Core: the art of being a free (hu)man. Vs. techne: pure abstract vs applied, creativity, imagination, and potential for brilliance and talent. Including innate but undiscovered, latent, Platonic “education,” with the potential for development at any stage in life.

Why we shouldn’t have student evaluations and exit polls at the end of a course, but longer afterwards: a year after, five years after, ten years after, and so on. The value of a course isn’t its immediate short-term quantifiable benefit. Its value isn’t contribution to GPA, to degree result, to employability on graduation, to gaining a higher starting salary. Its value is towards life-long learning, quality of life, and indeed life itself.

In medieval terms: it is prez e valor that make a good citizen and a good life in which she moves towards true nobility of soul/mind.


[there is an awful lot over years]

III. OBJECTIVIST OBJECTS OF SATIRE, PARODY, AND OPPOSITION = technology, engineering, finance, most of the sciences (except physics; some biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and psychology may be shifted into (post-graduate) medical study) and all areas of (pseudo-) study that are characterised by unimaginative mechanical projects and that reject and oppose subjectivity, individual agency, imagination and free creativity, abstract thought, the use of intelligence and instinct and good judgement, and ethical and political responsibility.

Some of these are pseudo-fields of little intellectual content and should either be removed from a university altogether or moved into interdisplinary studies.

Or, better and more constructively: UBC offers a solution. We have a vert interesting “co-op” programme, somewhat like “sandwich” degrees of the previous century or what engineering fields—from civil to computer—have done more or less since their formal beginnings, with students spending part of their degree in industry. This is in part where the idea of “internship” comes from. (The other part is a derivative from a specific stage of medieval apprenticeship, with as direct descendants legal pupillage and medical housedoctoring; and as indirect bastard offspring abusive work-placements and political and business networking so-called “internships.” The short-term placements of “work experience” are something else again, and a good idea to be formally integrated, as they are in many countries, into formal secondary schooling.) UBC co-op fits a student’s degree and skills with a pool of employers. Many are well-structured relationships and fitting well with the student’s academic work and interests. Students’ academic work is fitted around the co-op, and they carry a lower course load with co-op contributing to that load and to their degree.

In an ideal “co-op” world, every co-op would be directly related to a student’s field of study in direct application of what they have learned ans are currently learning. A co-op in any given term would, further, be tied to a specific course; and the student’s final work for that course would be a project linking the two—as theory and practice, with analysis and critical commentary—and any final assessment exercise (ex. the traditional exam) would involve evaluative discussion of the co-op (or, better, be entirely on it).

In my ideal world, every student at a university would do at least one co-op. In some areas, it could be—as it was for engineer-friends when I was an undergraduate—a requirement for a minor, major, or degree. Co-ops would not just be with outside firms, but would include on-campus employment: food services, janitorial, building maintenance, environment/landscaping, libraries, university communications, undergraduate teaching assistants and research assistants, peer-to-peer support services like tutoring… Not as an administrative assistant, ever, in any university services (ex. the front desk on enrolment, advising, counselling, etc.) that involve dealing with other undergraduate students and their personal information: grades, finances, health, well-being. That would be a serious conflict of interest.

In my ideal world, though, such formal co-ops integrated into a degree would be the only employment that a student would be permitted to take up while studying. We need to be stricter about what a full-time degree means, just as we do about full-time employment. Both are subject to misuse and abuse, to the detriment of over-worked under-thinking human beings. This would also mean rethinking and opening up part-time degrees for students who are working part-time. And it will involve an elephant in the room: in my own institution, many-to-most undergraduates are employed in jobs of work at least part-time and many are employed outside full-time, while also at university full-time. This means that in total they are working more than full time. That is profoundly wrong. Why are they doing it? In most cases, it is so as to pay their ever-increasing student fees and to afford food and a roof over their heads (in an ever-pricier rental market; many are therefore still living at home and often commuting long distances), minimal basics in a base minimalist existence that can barely be dignified with the epithet “human.”

The danger, of course, is for co-op to co-opt the rest of a degree, to infouence curriculum, and thus to interfere in the sacrosact independence of academia. Which is part of a wider “academic freedom.” This is already happening: in good ways and in bad. It is unfortunate that the bad ways tend to be more obvious, striking, and more widely reported in the media.

I am in favour, in principle—and as a matter of principle—and in practice, of a strict separation between ars and techne.


It would be wrong to tar all of TECHNE with the same brush.

Some fields are TECHNE in the sense of crafts, practical and applied fields; where practice leads to experience and expertise; where that development of skill is what constitutes knowledge and can be accompanied by raw natural talent, or by the the discovery and channeling or rechanneling of innate ability; where different forms of individual subjectivity and mental work are present, different from but equivalent to those in the abstract thinking arts.

ARS and TECHNE are different. There are essential clear-cut unchangeable differences between “arts” and “technology and technical and applied fields.”

BOTH are useful and necessary to a university because ars & techne should act together in conjoined harmony towards the university’s purpose and raison d’être: research and the continuation and expansion of knowledge. Romance metaphor: they ought to be in mout belle conjointure, of old/new and matiere/sans, in renouvellement.

But they are different. There is no shame in that: the subjective ars and the objectifying techne should respect one another in their differences. They should not try to ape the other, to trespass on or attempt conquer its territory, or to pretend to or lay claim to its authority. Academia should not be about petty power-games nor indeed about power-relations at all: this should be the pure idealistic world of pure ideas. Anything else is a perversion of academia and the university.

They need to work together: in order to produce better work, and in order for each to be better themself.

In a university, there is good sense in maintaining a part that is “arts,” a part that is “technologies,” a part that is “postgraduate study,” and a possibly more free-floating current that is “interdisciplinary research and development work.”

There is less sense in dividing up faculties following financial, administrative, and quantified criteria. There is even less sense in dividing or redividing or reconfiguring across disciplinary lines and in ignorant disregard for areas of knowledge, and indeed in ignorance of academia itself.

There is no sense in having putting a technical field (finance) in a position of power over all the arts. And the less said the better on non-fields that pretend to academic (abstract, intellectual) status such as administration, management, business, marketing, and branding.

Many areas that are currently categorised as fields of study at a university such as UBC, on an equal footing with the actual arts (and the traditional postgraduate fields), should either be moved into interdisciplinary studies or into its technical wing.


I’m not sure I’ll manage to express diplomatically what I’d like to do with trade and professional fields in my ideal university. I’ll try; it’s also an interesting ontological question after all.

The traditional professions–medicine, divinity, law–and their descendants and kin I would keep, in a post-graduate faculty.

Other professions that have snuck their way into aspiring to and acquiring Status? In an ideal Liberal Arts world I would return them to their traditional roots: to being trades, in a guild system, with apprentices and journeymen and masters (just like universities themselves started out; well, plus assimilating predecessor pure-temple-of-learning “schools”).

If training ends in formal acceptance into membership of the profession by a formal “profession,” that is the swearing of an oath of loyalty and to uphold and abide by professional ethical standards: then it’s a profession.

If there is not such culminating and concluding profession: then it’s not a profession and should stop having delusions of grandeur until it’s done some work and learned what “being a profession” means. Some professions are trades, some are not; some trades are professions, and some are not. There are intersections. There may be further intersections, why not, with other areas of activity whose basic form is academic / abstract but which also have an “applied” extension. Business and commerce, depending on how they are taught and thought about in a university, can often be good examples of complex “intersectionality.”

Otherwise, I see no reason why professional training shouldn’t be associated with a university and an integral part of it; but professional schools should be clearly distinct from the other faculties (ars, techne, post-graduate, interdisciplinary).

Anything that is more interested in itself as a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself in the pursuit of knowledge, should be kicked out: there are some courses and qualifications in my home Faculty of Arts that I would move out of there on teleological grounds. Many parts of the sciences and para-scientific fields too.


Certain fields of study should be post-graduate and probably at the doctoral level, after a solid foundation in the liberal arts (and being a certified well-rounded thinking not just informed but learnèd human). These fields are those of public service. They are public in that their practitioners’ work includes a duty of care towards others under their care, ethical responsibility, and the exercise of wise judgement:
1. Medicine
2. Law
3. Theology, the priesthood, and other forms of spiritual and psychological therapy
4. Education, at all levels
5. (To the medieval set and their extensions above I would add: librarianship, information-preservation, museum and heritage work, and custodianship of natural heritage.)

Public service in government, acting and working for the res publica, should have as prerequisites:
(a) a liberal arts foundation and
(b) a postgraduate continuation culminating in the public declaration of faith and demonstration of expertise, experience, and fiable goodwill that is a doctoral defence, with its exposition and explanation, an auto da fe
(c) note the inclusion of “experience” …
(d) … and note that of trustworthiness.

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