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Liberal Education

Liberal Education
Hagg-Sauer 382
Phone: (218) 755-2853
Fax: (218) 755-2822

Mailing Address:
Bemidji State University #23
1500 Birchmont Dr. NE
Bemidji, MN 56601-2699

Frequently Asked Questions

Q :

What is the Liberal Education requirement?

A:

Liberal Education (or "Lib Ed" or "Liberals," as most people at BSU call it for short) is a requirement for undergraduate students to take and pass at least fourteen courses in a wide variety of academic fields, including Natural Science, Mathematics, History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Humanities and Arts. At 42 credits total, this requirement accounts for slightly less than one–third of the 128 credits required for graduation. In order to meet the requirement, you must take and pass at least one course in each of ten categories; in four of the categories, two courses are required. Details, and lists of the courses currently approved for the various categories, can be found in the Liberal Education section of the: undergraduate catalog



Q :

Do I have to fulfill the Liberal Education requirement?

A:

The requirement is waived for students who are admitted to, undertake, and complete the Honors Program, or who enter BSU with an accredited Associate in Arts degree. It is also waived in whole or in part for students transferring in who have completed the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum in whole or in part, at one or more of Minnesota′s other public colleges or universities. (The BSU admissions staff can spell out the details as they apply to your specific case.) Otherwise, yes, you have to fulfill it in order to get a bachelor′s degree from BSU.



Q :

What if I plan to finish my bachelor′s degree at another school?

A:

We cannot guarantee that your completing the Liberal Education requirement in whole or in part here at BSU will be counted as satisfying the corresponding requirement(s) at another institution. You have to consult with that institution′s admissions office, the earlier the better. But if you plan to transfer to another of Minnesota′s public colleges or universities, there are some guarantees. Categories one through ten of BSU′s Liberal Education requirement match the ten categories of the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, a state–mandated common structure for all such liberal or general education requirements in Minnesota′s public colleges and universities. If you complete all ten of these categories here, or an Associate of Arts program, and then transfer to another Minnesota public college or university, then that other school′s liberal or general education requirement must be waived for you, or at least as much of it as corresponds to the Transfer Curriculum. If you complete some but not all of the Transfer Curriculum categories at BSU, those categories will be considered complete at other MnSCU schools.



Q :

When and in what order should I take Liberal Education classes?

A:

Start right away. The Category One courses, College Writing I and II, are prime examples of the kind of Lib Ed course that teaches you things you will need to know in order to do well in the courses for your major and even other Lib Ed courses. They are a sequence, to be taken in order. Take them as soon as possible unless you are experienced enough to test out of them.

Lib Ed courses are mostly at the 1000 (Freshman) or 2000 (Sophomore) level, with no prerequisites, and the overall size of the Lib Ed requirement is about one-third of the overall number of credits required to graduate. It is therefore tempting to think of the first two years of one′s undergraduate career as the time to "get Lib Ed out of the way," and the last two as the time for doing the major. This is by no means always a good model, though. Some Lib Ed courses may be better taken in your Junior or Senior year. (If you plan to transfer out after just two years, with the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum all completed, that′s another matter.) And many major programs require courses to be taken in sequence: course A is a prerequisite for course B, and B a prerequisite for C, and so forth, the whole sequence lasting more than two years. In such cases, if you are going to finish in just four years (which we like to encourage), you have to get started on that sequence before finishing the Lib Ed requirement. Other major programs require courses that are not taught every year, so that you have to take them when they are offered, rather than waiting till you are finished with Lib Ed. Consult with your advisor to draw up a plan suitable to your own situation and intentions.



Q :

How does Lib Ed relate to my major?

A:

In some respects, Lib Ed stands opposed to your major. Your major is about specializing, while Lib Ed tends in the opposite direction. It is more useful, however, to see them as complementing one another.

In many cases, some of the courses required for your major may draw on abilities developed in Lib Ed courses. Often, too, Lib Ed courses develop abilities not specifically addressed in your major but still vital to career success in that field. If you ask, your advisor can help you plan both the Lib Ed and major components of your program of study so as to take full advantage of these possibilities.



Q :

In Liberal Education, there are so many courses to choose from. Which should I take?

A:

The BSU Lib Ed program gives you a lot of flexibility to decide what combination of courses you will use to complete the various areas. With this freedom comes responsibility: your advisor can help, but ultimately it is up to you to put together a coherent individual Lib Ed program that is useful and instructive and well complements your major.

It is often possible to count the same course towards the requirements both of a major or minor and of Lib Ed. If you are pursuing a second major, however, or a minor, or simply are interested in pursuing a subject outside your major to a greater extent than will count for Lib Ed, and you still hope to graduate with only the minimum 128 credits, then there is some reason to select courses that will meet Lib Ed requirements and your other requirements at the same time. But do not let a preference for such "two–" and even three–fers get in the way of your putting together an individual Lib Ed program that makes sense, works for you, and meaningfully complements your major and/or minor programs.

Along the same lines, you should resist temptations to select Lib Ed courses with a view towards completing the requirements with a minimum of effort or difficulty. In sum, do not slavishly follow the path of least resistance to the completion of the Lib Ed requirement. Let your advisor know that you want to go after a quality Liberal Education and not just take the easiest way through. Often the most rewarding learning, the kind that goes furthest to make you a truly liberally educated person, is of kinds that many students find difficult, such as math and languages.



Q :

What does it mean when a course is listed under more than one category?

A:

Many courses are listed under two Lib Ed categories. Some American History courses, for instance, are listed both under Category Five "History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences" and Category Seven "Human Diversity in the United States." In such cases, you can count the course towards fulfillment of the requirements for either or both categories. The credits, however, only count once and you must still have a total of 42 credits in Lib Ed to complete the program. Most students end up with more than 42 credits, but if you do not have 42 total you may take courses from any Lib Ed category to make up the difference.

Some Lib Ed courses are required in majors, and you may use them to fulfill the requirements in both areas but may only count the credits once. As with Lib Ed, you will need to make up the credits for the major with approved courses. See an advisor for help with this.



Q :

Why is Lib Ed required?

A:

In your Liberal Education courses you can learn and use and cultivate many skills and abilities, such as algebra and writing, that you will need in order to do well in classes in your major, as well as in your career. One of the main functions of Liberal Education is to lay down a foundation of knowledge and intellectual values and abilities that will enable you to keep on learning throughout life, and thus rise to meet challenge after challenge as they arise. Your undergraduate college education should not be thought of as the final part of your education, but rather as a foundation for further education, formal or otherwise, throughout your life.

Sampling the various major types of academic fields, at the college level, helps to lay this foundation by acquainting you with their respective ways of knowing, proving, and arguing such matters as fall within their purview. It may also help you decide on a major field, if you are undecided, or introduce you to a new major that you might not have considered.

Last but not least, Liberal Education broadens what could otherwise be a too specialized college education. This matters because although the work you will do for money after graduation may be specialized, that work neither is nor should be the sum total of what either your life or your education is about. Liberal education develops abilities that can help you in nearly any professional career, such as public speaking and writing, and the ability to make worthwhile conversation in social situations; but whether your career gives much or little scope for these abilities, other parts of your life can be greatly enhanced by them, notably including your participation in the conversation that is the civic life of your community, country, and world. And if in the future you change careers, as most of you likely will, you may even find that your Liberal Education has more enduring and versatile career relevance than your major.



Q :

Where does Liberal Education come from?

A:

Liberal Education is an educational ideal with historical roots stretching all the way back to ancient Greece. The philosopher Plato, who founded the original Academy in Athens around 388 B.C., refers to the idea in his dialogue Protagoras. The character Socrates in that dialogue points out that while some studies are professional and specialized in nature, as when a physician teaches students medicine, so that they can become physicians too, there are other studies that free citizens pursue, not for the purpose of becoming their teachers′ professional colleagues, but just for the sake of their own personal, cultural, and intellectual growth.

Socrates′ examples of such studies were spelling, harp-playing, and wrestling. The medieval European universities generally taught seven Liberal Arts: the trivium, comprising grammar (Latin and Greek), rhetoric or oratory, and logic or dialectic; and the quadrivium, comprising arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (including astrology). Many of the oldest and most famous and exclusive private institutions of higher learning in America (and elsewhere) were founded as, and remain, "liberal arts" institutions, though with a larger and more modern list of those "arts" than the medieval one.

Throughout most of its long history, liberal education has generally been offered only to social or economic elites, preparing their members for leadership roles appropriate to their superior status. BSU prides itself on breaking with that tradition, in favor of more equal educational opportunity, and it stands strongly committed to the ideal of liberal education as the very core of its educational mission.

The term "liberal" derives from Latin liber, meaning free. Throughout much of the history of "liberal" education this referred to a freedom only enjoyed by social elites. But you may still think of liberal education, as the American ex-slave Frederick Douglass wrote of basic literacy, as learning that renders you unfit to be a slave–or even a wage slave, a person whose life is wholly circumscribed and defined by working at a job for someone else.



Q :

What if I′m a conservative?

A:

The "liberal" part of the term "liberal education" (or "liberal studies" or "liberal arts") means something quite distinct from what "liberal" means in the context of politics, where it stands opposed to "conservative." A conservative with a good liberal education is likely to be a more effective conservative, better able to understand and articulate what conservative principles are, and how they apply in various situations, and better able to influence others′ opinions.

True liberal education, however, can be a transformative experience, equally capable of turning a conservative into a political liberal, or a political liberal into a conservative.

If you do not understand (well enough to explain) what the terms "liberal" and "conservative" mean as applied to politics, you are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to participating in the civic and political life and conversation of your country. Liberal education can help here.



Q :

Who put together this FAQ?

A:

The University′s Liberal Education Committee.