In Defense of the Liberal Arts

[The following is a letter received by our department by a former graduate and current Harvard Divinity School student. He has agreed to allow us to post his letter here.]

My name is Cary Dabney. I am currently a graduate student at Harvard University’s Divinity School. I am also an alumnus of Youngstown State University, class of 2013.  I want to thank you in advance for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this correspondence. I promise this message will be brief, but it is a message I feel needs to be shared in light of the changing academic environment at my beloved Alma matter.

On October 18, 2015, I was instructed to turn in an excerpt from my master thesis to be completed and defended before a board next spring. This excerpt is generally an opportunity for the professor who has been assigned as your director to offer criticism and suggest appropriate modifications to your approach and overall theory. After reading my excerpt, this Harvard professor of over thirty years made the following comment, “It’s rare that I find myself without critical comment on a paper, but such is the case here… this paper is final draft quality, with nothing more needing to be done as far as I’m concerned. I have never read or experienced a student so adequately prepared for this area of work…you are one of the most promising students of medieval philosophy and moral theology I have ever worked with.”

I share this with you not due to any need of recognition; rather, I share this with you to make you aware of the work that is being done in the classrooms of the liberal arts college at Youngstown State University, particularly the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department.  The faculty and staff of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department prepared me, a non-traditional student and a first-generation college graduate, in such a way that I am now considered a top candidate for doctoral work in my field.

I have heard rumors that several liberal arts programs are at risk of being reduced or cut altogether. I will be the first to admit that I am completely ignorant of what it takes to effectively run a state university, but I also know that if it were not for the foundation laid by the men and women in the college of liberal arts, specifically in areas of language, philosophy, and religious studies, I would never have earned a fellowship to Harvard University, and I most certainly would not have been able to excel at the graduate level.  My fellow students here at Harvard all come from academic institutions that have a commitment to the liberal arts.  This includes students from all Harvard graduate schools;  the medical school, business College, and law school.  If Youngstown State wishes to continue to send its graduates to the leading graduate schools in the country, then it must maintain its commitment to the liberal arts, including language, philosophy, and the study of world religion. If not, graduates from Youngstown State will simply not be able to compete with students in the academy.

Again, I share this with you out of my love, pride, and concern about MY Youngstown State University.  Thank you for the work that you do, and your commitment to the students of YSU. I know their welfare are you chief priority.  My aim here is only to give voice to some of those who may no longer walk the halls of YSU, but always carry a piece of YSU with us.

Penguin for life!

Cary W Dabney

Master of Divinity Candidate, 2016

Harvard University, Divinity School

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