Are we liberal arts?

Are we liberal arts?

“Liberal Arts” is a term many of us use almost instinctively. We’ve grown up with it, and we sometimes assume that everyone uses it the way we do.

In the work I have the privilege to do at Dordt College, I probably hear “liberal arts” seven or eight times a week from prospective students, current parents, or alumni—often in reference to Dordt College.

I don’t always interrupt the usage—but you might be interested in knowing why “liberal arts” gives me pause.

While Dordt College has many attributes similar to most liberal arts colleges—a residential character, small class sizes, high student graduation and retention rates, personable and relational faculty and staff, teaching excellence, and a strong commitment to curricular breadth—Dordt College is not really a liberal arts college.
We never have been.

A liberal arts college might teach many of the courses we consider vital to a holistic education, but the aim of the classic liberal arts education is to make citizens “worthy of living freely” (from the Latin liberalis). We see ourselves as citizens of Christ’s “already and not yet” kingdom, living Pro Rege, or “for the King.” So “liberal arts” doesn’t fit us very well.

This certainly does not mean we are anti-humanities, anti-arts, or anti-sciences. Our commitment is to a truly holistic and biblical education that takes every thought captive to Christ. The term “liberal arts” is too narrow to reflect the interwoven, integral character of God’s creational structure and our call to live fully and broadly as his servants.

Dordt College started as a junior college, and we’re one of the few that have retained two-year associate degrees as a vital part of our mission.  In fact, we recently announced an exciting expansion of such programs to help close a gap in Christian higher education.

Dordt was founded to prepare teachers and pastors from a Reformed, Christian world-and-life view. Today, our largest majors are education, business/accounting, engineering, agriculture, and nursing—majors that serve professional and technological fields.

But we aren’t a professional, vocational, or technical school either. Every one of our majors is rooted in our robust and interconnected Core Program, designed to help Dordt graduates grow into effective kingdom citizens—whatever their occupational area of service. In addition to the Core Program, we believe our calling as a college requires the breadth of diverse, yet integrally related, programs we offer.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a stickler about the term “liberal arts,” but I think we have something distinctive here—something more comprehensive and transformational than “liberal arts.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. Erik Hoekstra, president