Embracing Butler’s Cultural Requirement

CHRISTIAN HARTSELLE | OPINION COLUMNIST

Butler University was founded on liberal arts, and the university has a responsibility to foster this culture.

Last week, an unnamed accounting major said he or she usually tries to leave Butler cultural events early because they did not see their value, claiming they had never attended one they enjoyed. Dr. James F. McGrath, a professor in the department of philosophy and religion, responded with the argument that a liberal arts education enables students to explore this culture, which is a privilege rather than a chore.

As a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I agree with McGrath. As he said, Butler students have chosen an institution with a “strong liberal arts foundation,” not a “vocational training college.”

McGrath also posted the response on his blog, where “Sam Doe,” claiming to be a former student, commented with an altercation I found to be particularly misinformed.

Sam Doe argued that students go to Butler to get their degree on a piece of paper and to “extend their adolescence” with basketball games and Greek parties.

“Butler enables this mindset,” read the comment. “Although Butler lists itself as a liberal arts school, it is evident where its true interests are. The university is happy because it gets to boast about its solid programs in everything that the university was not founded on.”

This comment is problematic for a multitude of reasons, but I am most disturbed by the proposition that Butler is founded on a sales model rather than on liberal arts.

Yes, Butler is a private university and its offices strive to expand and earn tuition from more incoming students. But our school stems from the liberal arts, and that is still apparent in the classroom.

The university charter written by the original founders of Butler in 1850 called for an institution “offering instruction in every branch of liberal and professional education.”

The university even had the first department of English in the state of Indiana. Universities serve the role of establishing culture for residents of the community.

Using the Visiting Writers Series as an example, it was established in the 1980s and has expanded to be an acclaimed cultural program in the community as well as beyond. It offers about 14 events a year, free and open to Butler students and the Indianapolis community. The writers interact with undergraduate and graduate students and partake in informal question-and-answer sessions in the Efroymson Center for Creative Writing.

The list of authors who have visited Butler includes Toni Morrison, Billy Collins, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks, Nick Hornsby, Margaret Atwood, Allen Ginsberg, Amy Tan and, this semester, Lois Lowry, author of “The Giver.”

Carly Horton, a freshman creative writing major, understands the value of these tremendous cultural opportunities.

“As an aspiring screenwriter myself, having the ability to meet two successful screenwriters reassured me that I am doing what I am meant to do,” Horton said. “It was an experience that I will forever be grateful for and will never forget.”

Studying the craft of writing myself, I still cannot fathom the awe of having met Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith in the same semester.

But meeting and listening to these authors is enriching for more than just English majors; other students can be touched by it as well, if they allow themselves to be. It is as if they do not even realize how tremendously rare these opportunities are.

The Visiting Writers Series’ excellence is due to the dedication of those who began it, as well as a $1 million gift from Vivian S. Delbrook, from whom the program receives its name.

Dr. Jason Goldsmith, a professor in the department of English, is on the committee for organizing these visiting writer events as the prose coordinator.

“We really want to have this for the community — and not just for the writers, but for the students,” Goldsmith said.

Especially at a university with such a focus on the liberal arts, students should know why these things are important and why the university pushes us to be exposed to these cultural events.

Butler is a leading center for culture and discourse in Indianapolis. Students have these opportunities for growth and learning a short walk away, but the question remains: Will they take advantage of them?

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