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Message from the Dean

Noelle S. Wiersma, Ph.D.
I am pleased to announce that July 1, 2012, marked the official establishment of the College of Arts & Sciences at Whitworth University. For more than 120 years, the undergraduate arts and science departments at Whitworth have served students well in providing "an education of mind and heart" and in preparing them to "honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity." That is not new. Our Master of Arts in Theology Program and innovative opportunities for interdisciplinary study, including U.S. Cultural studies, women's and gender studies and others, have come alongside our traditional undergraduate programs to round out important learning opportunities for students.

What is new is the formal organization of all of these arts and science programs into a unified college, in order to bring energy and focus to the very foundation of Whitworth's mission. As the newly configured College of Arts & Sciences moves forward, one early essential goal is to promote an enhanced understanding of the nature of a liberal arts education – what does "liberal arts" mean? – and of its value – why is the study of the liberal arts and sciences, and their intersection, vital in today's world?

Those are big questions. Sometimes we start with answers that are essentially accurate but fairly simplistic: a liberal arts education is the study of a variety of classical academic subjects, it makes us more well-rounded and better people, it helps us  think for ourselves and become leaders, it makes changing jobs easier. Maybe.

A more sophisticated answer might be that a liberal arts education pays big dividends in life's most important outcomes: the exercise of analytic and critical thinking, the cultivation of creativity and imagination, the development of moral and ethical character, the promotion of just and fulfilling human relationships, the stewardship of the earth and her resources, the ability to communicate in clear and inspiring ways, the capacity to discover and rediscover one's vocation as life unfolds and the world changes. Better.

But is there an even deeper potential level of understanding of the liberal arts? In his classic book The Idea of a Christian College, Arthur Holmes suggests that a Christian worldview lends a more coherent and deeper meaning to a liberal arts curriculum. Think of the educational and life outcomes, above, that we believe to be associated with study of the liberal arts and sciences, but think of them in a more integrated way. Think of them, in particular, in light of Whitworth's Christian mission: these outcomes comprise our individual and collective response to God, demonstrate our commitment to Christ, and represent our determination to use all of our intellectual and other gifts to understand and redeem the world even when that is extraordinarily challenging.

Once we truly fathom the implications of all that a Christian liberal arts and science education can be, the sky should be the limit in making that happen. Who wouldn't want to participate in the rich and rewarding enterprise outlined above? A second important facet of the work of the new College of Arts & Sciences and its inhabitants, then, will involve renewed efforts to discern the initiatives in the arts and sciences that make sense at this time for Whitworth, its faculty and its students, and to equip them in practical ways with the tools and experiences they need to further advance our excellence in these areas.

As the College of Arts & Sciences engages in this work, I hope that you will convey your questions and ideas to our office by calling 509.777.4874, or via email at We are happy to learn of your interest and investment in this endeavor.

Noelle S. Wiersma, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences