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Professor receives book award

Nicole Michels | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Career-minded students should not shy away from a liberal arts education, professor Mark Roche says, because students educated in liberal arts will be just as well prepared for the real world as those who study business.

Roche, former dean of the College of Arts and Letters, explored this theme in his book titled “Why Choose the Liberal Arts?” for which he received the 2011 Frederic W. Ness Book Award. He said he felt the need to express his support of such an education in a public forum.

“Administrators often give abstract, brief and occasional speeches about the value of the liberal arts, but I give a fuller response,” Roche said. “My unease [was] with the sense that even though I was endorsing the practical argument, education was being reduced to the practical. We hadn’t set our sights lofty enough.”

The Ness Award is bestowed annually by the American Association of Colleges and Universities to the book that best contributes to the understanding and further development of “liberal education,” according to the organization’s website.

Roche said he was initially driven to explore the real-world applicability of an education in the arts and sciences because of the struggle to lure students from the perceived practicality of a business degree.

“I wanted to make the case that students could pursue the liberal arts and succeed,” Roche said.

Exploring which talents employers valued most, Roche said he found students of the arts and sciences are often considered ideal candidates.

“The practical skills that you develop, especially communication skills both oral and written, are often the most important skills identified by employers,” Roche said.

Roche said students also make the mistake of perceiving college as just a launch pad for future success, ignoring what they can accomplish during their time on campus.

“There is a tremendous focus on college as a means to an end, but I wanted to stress another dimension: the value of learning for its own sake,” he said.

Additionally, institutions should encourage students to be aware of the maturation process that takes place within the liberal arts classroom, Roche said.

Roche said the liberal arts tradition at Notre Dame is unique because of the impact of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.

“Three things distinguish Notre Dame: the high number of requirements in a wide array of fields; the Catholic mission that manifests itself in a strong interest in integrating authors like Dante or Augustine in humanities courses, social justice questions and ethical applications and questions … and that we try to interweave teaching and research as an institution,” he said.

Roche said the award is a testament to Notre Dame’s vision of a worldly education.

“Part of what I’m saying is that Notre Dame has a certain vision of education that is to a certain degree transferable to other settings, but it has a very fertile home here,” he said.