Liberal arts make MSU unique to Texas

Herbert McCullough

In 1987, Midwestern State University joined the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. This made MSU is the only public liberal arts institution in the State of Texas.

“COPLAC accepts one representative from each state,” James Johnston, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “If you are that representative and meet the criteria, you are a member. That was our work that predated me.”

Johnston said COPLAC is an organization of public liberal arts universities that promotes the ideals of a liberal arts education.

“As members of that organization, we have an opportunity to meet and share best practices and research related to delivering education,” Johnson said. “We try to keep classes small in order for faculty members and students to build that personal relationship, personal touch, personal experience so students can know their professors.”

Gayonne Beavers, director of office admissions explained what separates MSU as a public liberal arts institution compared to other private liberal arts institutions. As a public liberal arts institution, she said that MSU is much more affordable than many private liberal arts institutions in Texas and the United States.

“Typically liberal arts institutions are historically private,” Beaver said. “Whenever you go to a private institution, there is also private tuition. In order to get a liberal arts education, you need to go to a private institution which will be a lot more expensive for the student. But because we are a public liberal arts university, the only one in the State of Texas, we are able to offer students a private school experience at a public university cost.”

One of the first questions Beaver is asked by students and their families is what are the majors MSU has to offer as a public liberal arts institution. Many students are surprised by the large variety of majors available at MSU.

“Typically a liberal arts institution has a limited number of majors,” Beaver said. “The thing that makes MSU unique is that we have branched out the typical liberal arts concept and we are offering majors like health services and engineering which are typically not within liberal arts majors.”

Brandy Jolliff Scott, assistant professor, said that liberal arts are the collection of fields of study that includes a wide variety of academic majors that emphasizes traditional intellectual fields. “When you hear the term liberal arts or liberal arts degree it is someone who has a fairly broad education and a wide range of topics like English, math, literature, history, politics, and science,” Jolliff Scott said. “So it kind of that collection of fields of study.”

Johnson said that the most popular common misconception of a public liberal arts institution stems from the word ‘liberal.’ He said that many people are far too familiar with the political terminology instead of the definition of the word itself.

“Unfortunately, the first confusion is using the word liberal,” Johnson said. “More are familiar with the political context or the political views. The origin of the word goes back to freedom and it is intended to be a broad base exposure to a variety of subjects.”

Johnston said the second most common misconception about a public liberal arts institution is that it only limited to specific majors such as those found in fine arts and social sciences.

“Liberal arts is truly a philosophy that can be reused a crossed all disciplines,” Johnson said. “There are certainly strong professional programs in liberal arts universities and here. It is a combination of philosophy and different opinions, not just about art, music, history, writing or literature; it is that and it is a philosophy of approaching education.”

Jolliff Scott said the most common misperception many students have with the field of liberal arts is that it limits employment opportunities. She said that having a liberal arts degree is one of the most well-rounded degrees to have. Much like the variety of degrees, the liberal arts field offers a wide variety of skills needed in the workforce.

“People worry that having a liberal arts degree means that you don’t have specific job training,” Jolliff Scott said. “But actually, for so many of the fields in liberal arts, we have training for a wide variety of careers. You learn how to write, process information, and think critically. You also learn about math and statistical skills. You learn how to do research; you learn how to engage in public speaking.”

Jolliff Scott, like many faculty and students, is very proud of MSU being a public liberal arts institution.

“When I went to college, I would have loved to have a liberal arts degree but I did not have that luxury. The fact that MSU provides a liberal arts education at a public school to students in Texas and from other states is a vital service to have and a really noble goal.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of the provost. The provost is James Johnston. The Wichitan regrets the error.

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