The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Mullings by Rich Galen ®
An American Cyber-Column By Rich Galen
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Liberal Arts

Rich Galen

Monday May 4, 2015


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  • According to The National Center for Education Statistics, some 1,855,000 students will graduate with a bachelor's degree in 2015.

  • About 250 of them graduated from Marietta College (my alma mater) over the weekend.

  • I was in Marietta because a friend of mine also a graduate of Marietta, was the commencement speaker. In real life he happens to be the Ambassador to the United States from the Caribbean iland nation of Barbados; Ambassador John Beale.

  • This was my first commencement at Marietta College. I didn't attend my own because I finished my coursework during the summer. After getting a "B" in my Comparative Government class someone from the college called and said I didn't have to come any more.

  • So I graduay-TED, but never attended a gradua-SHUN.

  • This was the 178th commencement at Marietta College meaning the first one was in 1837. That was before I started there, but not by much.

  • Looking at the degrees got me thinking, as I do now and again, about the value of a Liberal Arts degree.

  • About 60 percent of the students graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.


    I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech. When I was in college there was not yet a degree offered in Mass Communications so the closest I could come was a degree in Speech.


  • The rest graduated with Bachelor of Science degrees including over 70 who graduated with a degree in Petroleum Engineering.

  • At this time of year, there is always a question of the value of a degree from a liberal arts college. The example is typically someone with a degree in Art History who complains he or she can't find a job.

  • The Brookings Institution recently released a report that charted the "value added" of a degree from four-year institutions. Value add, in this study, was what a student expected to earn against what typical graduates actually earn.

  • Atop the list were the usual suspects: Stanford, MIT, Colgate, Washington and Lee to name a few. But right there in 13th place was good old Marietta College, 45750. Ahead of Harvard and all the Ivy League Schools, and ahead of the University of Virginia and all those other state schools.

  • One of the reasons a college like Marietta (or any of the other hundreds of small, independent Liberal Arts colleges in the nation) continue to draw students is because they are not trade schools. They are colleges.

  • Seventy Four young men and women from as far away as China and Kuwait not only got a first class education in Petroleum Engineering, but they had to complete the required hours in the humanities - History and English, Philosophy, etc.; as well as other STEM- related courses.

  • That is not to say there isn't a place for trade schools - community colleges, technical institutes and so on. Steve Jobs is quoted has having told President Obama that with 30,000 Americans trained in industrial engineering - not full-blown engineering degrees - he could move a significant amount of manufacturing of Apple products back to the U.S.

  • He's not around to defend that number anymore, but that tells us not everyone needs a four-year degree.

  • When the faculty filed into the field house a professor who sat on the end closest to me was Dr. Steven Blume. I took one class from Dr. Blume - a poetry course. I don't remember now why I thought that would be a good class but here's what happens when you take one three hour class in poetry.


    This will spill over into coffee-shop philosophy so skip over it if you want.

  • Dr. Blume, through this random poetry class, taught me that life is almost never presented in iambic pentameter.

  • It comes at you like an ee cummings poem: Seemingly without form, without rhyme, often without even punctuation (like his name) but as full of meaning as you are willing to work for.


  • As we lurch more deeply into the 2016 political season, one of the tenets of Liberal Arts is you can disagree with one another without becoming enemies of one another. Another tenet is this: If the other person's argument makes sense to you, it's OK to be persuaded to his point of view.

  • I don't think about this stuff every day, but if you could have seen the look on the faces of those new graduates as they, in unison, moved the tassels on their caps from the right to the left, you would feel better about our nation's future.

  • And, they were just 250 of the 1.855 million young men and women who, in this Commencement season, have done the same thing.

  • Maybe we need a national refresher course in Liberal Arts.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Brookings Institution study and to the Wikipedia entry for ee cummings.

    Also a very sweet Mullfoto from the Marietta College campus over the weekend.

    -- END --

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