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Rethinking Liberal Arts: Two Juniata Professors Offer Discussion

(Posted November 8, 2013)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- When people traditionally discuss the purpose of a liberal arts education, some of the most common themes include preparing students for the workplace or training students to become good citizens. Wade Roberts, assistant professor of philosophy, and James Roney, I. Harvey Brumbaugh Professor of Russian and International Studies, will instead suggest that a liberal arts education helps students develop the capacity to think -- during their dual lecture at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 20, in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science on the Juniata campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The talk is one of a series of Bookend Lectures held once a month throughout the academic year by Juniata faculty.

"We're hoping to recreate the experience of a liberal arts conference. At such conferences, the audience actually engages the paper and starts to debate it, and then whoever gave the paper knows much more than they started with because you get the perspectives of all these other people -- not unlike a liberal arts education."
Jim Roney, professor of Russian

The lecture, titled "Arendt, Eichmann and the Perils of Thoughtlessness: Reflections on the Liberal Arts," is inspired by philosopher Hannah Arendt, who argues that there is an important distinction between "thinking" and "'knowledge." Knowledge deals with questions based in observation or experience that have empirical answers, while thinking is much more similar to what philosophers typically do.

"I want to use Arendt's work on thinking to look differently at the purpose of a liberal arts education," says Roberts. "The liberal arts education helps students develop the capacity to pose the kinds of questions that don't have straightforward or clear answers."

"We're hoping to recreate the experience of a liberal arts conference and keep our remarks relatively short," says Roney. "At such conferences, the audience actually engages the paper and starts to debate it, and then whoever gave the paper knows much more than they started with because you get the perspectives of all these other people -- not unlike a liberal arts education."

Roberts came to Juniata in 2008 as an assistant professor of philosophy after earning a doctoral degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 2007. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English in 1996 from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala. and earned a master's degree in philosophy in 1997 from Duquesne.

He has had articles published in journals such as Social Philosophy Today and GR Journal for the Arts, Science and Technology.

Roney joined the Juniata faculty in 1988 after teaching at the University of New Hampshire from 1984 to 1988 as an assistant professor. At Juniata he was promoted to associate professor in 1990 and to full professor in 1995. He received the 2009 Beachley Award for Distinguished Teaching. He was recognized for classroom excellence in 1993 when he received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

He earned a bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature from Dartmouth College in 1973. He later attended Ohio State University, where he earned a master's degree in Slavic languages and literature in 1975 followed by a doctoral degree in Slavic literature in 1981.

By John Dubensky

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.