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Former Engineering Dean Reflects on Role of the Liberal Arts and Sciences

By Kate Szumanski

A former dean of the College of Engineering, Barry Johnson, Engineering, M.E., ’70, witnessed Villanova’s tremendous growth into a national and international university as it broadened and strengthened its fields of study, particularly in the areas of business, engineering, and nursing. As the University expanded, it has remained rooted in its strong liberal arts and sciences tradition, but Johnson asks the provocative question, has Villanova drifted from this established tradition?

“As I reflect on my own college experience at Villanova, I become more concerned that the specialty schools in business, engineering, and nursing focus more on training students to be proficient in their respective fields than on exposing their students to a broader array of subjects and disciplines,” Johnson said. “This is something that all of academia is struggling with – training vs. educating students. It seems to me that each of the schools at Villanova was much more grounded in the liberal arts and sciences in the past than they are now.”

Johnson explained that when he was a Villanova student, he took many classes outside of his mechanical engineering coursework. “These courses forced me to look and think across the disciplines,” he said. “What is the role of a university? To train its students for a particular profession or to educate them so that they can think broadly? The key to success for any Villanova graduate – past, present, and future – is the ability to think across the disciplines.”

“St. Augustine was someone who was able to think across the disciplines,” Johnson said. “Here is a person who embodies this notion, and the ‘Augustine the Teacher’ display illustrates this idea. Furthermore, if we are going to teach our students to think across a broader canvas of knowledge, then we have to get them to appreciate diversity and diversity of thought. Villanova must continue to strive to diversify to its student body.”

Through the generosity of James P. Magee, A&S, ’75, and Johnson and his wife, Kathie Johnson, the artistic expression of “Augustine the Teacher” has grown to include the addition of a sculpture of a third student.

“The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the soul of Villanova University,” Johnson said. “Yet this is not always fully understood or appreciated. You can take away the professional schools, but you can’t take away the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The College is full of a broad spectrum of people with knowledge in many areas, but it seems as if this is not fully appreciated.”

“Until you gain a level of success and are promoted – when you begin to handle and manage people, and address change in your position – then you begin to appreciate the impact of the liberal arts and sciences in your life.”

“The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences teaches its students to think critically, to question, and to appreciate the many varieties of life. These are the truly educated ones in our society. In our world, we tend to lean on the side of training students. Yet industry changes so quickly that it becomes impossible to train our students for what they will face in the workplace. Education simply can’t keep up with industry. We must teach students how to think and how to adapt to change, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences does this better than any other college on campus.

Media Contact

Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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