Frank Bruni Endorses the Liberal Arts, Makes Case for Context
by Joseph Master
A liberal arts education allows us to see the world in context and to make connections across boundaries, New York Times columnist and best-selling author Frank Bruni said Friday in Sullivan Hall’s Feinstone Lounge.
Bruni, whose latest book, Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, tackles higher education head-on, often addresses college access and value in his columns — most recently with a satirical piece about Stanford dropping its acceptance rate to zero.
“It’s his passionate commitment to higher education, and the humanities in particular, that encouraged us, the College of Liberal Arts, to ask him here today to speak on the topic,” Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Rebecca Alpert said in her introduction of the famed writer in front of a packed room of students, faculty and academic advisors.
During his discussion, “The Crucial Role of Liberal Arts in a Fractured World,” which was offered as part of the Leonard Mellman Distinguished Lecture series, Bruni spoke about his own experiences as an undergraduate journalist, professional food critic and op-ed columnist, while endorsing liberal arts education as an essential and rewarding undertaking.
“I majored in English and minored in American studies,” Bruni said. “I probably couldn’t have articulated to you then why I thought that was going to be so valuable. It was more of a gut, visceral thing. It is much more valuable to me than if I had just spent my time learning the mechanics of journalism.
“It enabled me, and it enables any of us who have a good liberal arts education, to do the following: to see things in context. To ask the right questions. Journalism teaches you to observe something very specifically and very accurately. But what the liberal arts teach you is to ask where it fits in to a larger picture. And it’s those sorts of questions that actually make you observe, write about and describe things on a deeper and more meaningful level.”
Bruni, who became a journalist but never took a journalism class and who became The New York Times’ chief restaurant critic without a culinary background, described the liberal arts as a “yardstick of possibility.”
The liberal arts are ultimately about context and about a yardstick — the yardstick of possibility. When you know how varied civilization can be — how many different people have lived and thought in different ways — you understand the context of any given event in any given moment.
Bruni also told the audience how Temple is the ideal setting for students to immerse themselves in a liberal arts education.
“Temple is in many ways the ideal place, the perfect environment for not falling into the trap of a homogenous enclave; of a single, narrow and suspicious way of thinking,” he said. “The history and tradition of this school is one of ushering immigrant children into a broader world."
This school, by dint of its scale and its location in a major American city, affords you the opportunity to swim in a diverse sea.
Bruni assured students that liberal arts coursework, despite common misconceptions, is ideal training for the modern workforce.
“The market for smart, curious people has not tightened,” he said. “And that’s part of what a liberal arts education is about. It teaches you how to ask questions, how to filter information, how to be curious in smart ways.”