Liberal Arts Studies

At Ottawa University, we understand the liberal arts as an interdisciplinary discourse that blends focus and breadth, connecting the major/professional field with wider contexts and larger wholes, extending to the global community.  To this end, Ottawa University’s liberal arts studies program provides all students a shared core curriculum that develops critical thinking and long-term value for intellectual and ethical interrogation.  The liberal arts have a history that we seek to honor, albeit in a way responsive to contemporary reality. 

One feature that distinguishes Ottawa University from other universities that offer liberal arts and pre-professional education is Ottawa’s unique Liberal Arts Studies program (LAS).  Virtually all colleges and universities that grant a Bachelor’s degree require students to complete some kind of general education program.  These institutions often ask students to take courses in a variety of disciplines to ensure breadth, with the expectation that graduates will leave the University with more at their intellectual disposal than the knowledge of their major.  At Ottawa University, the curriculum provides opportunity for students to study elements of multiple disciplines, while at the same time reinforcing critical thinking skills through a sequence of interdisciplinary courses.

Critical thinking is the primary skill of the liberally educated person.  It is achieved, in an academic setting, via:

    Exposing oneself to a variety of disciplines and points of view

    Posing questions - and answering them

    Developing a comfort with ambiguity

    Requiring evidence for assertions

    Delaying judgment

    Developing and wielding a variety of strategies to engage thinking (reading, writing, seeing, listening, speaking)

    Engaging in the study of “the best that is known and thought in the world . . . irrespective of practice, politics, and everything of the kind”. From the Function of Criticism in the Present Time by Matthew Arnold (1865).   

  • Instructional Practice of a liberal arts education at Ottawa University:

Practice at the residential campuses (OUKS-Ottawa and OUAZ-Surprise): At the residential campuses of Ottawa University, liberal arts education is understood as an integrated discourse that blends focus and breadth, crucially grounded in critical thinking. To this end, all students at the residential campuses experience a shared core curriculum consisting of an orientation to academic culture, three interdisciplinary seminars, and an array of course choices with each of eight breadth areas. The eight breadth area courses and four LAS core courses comprise 34 credit hours toward graduation—which means that when students leave Ottawa University, whether with a degree in business or education or human services or biology, they have had an education grounded in the liberal arts. This further communicates to future employers that our graduates have a nimble mind, are not afraid to wrestle with complex ideas, and can adapt to the demands of a diverse and changing workplace.

Practice within Adult Professional and Graduate Studies (APGS): The Adult Professional and Graduate Studies of Ottawa University are also deeply committed to graduating students who are liberally educated.  Students on the adult campuses are required to complete at least two courses in each of four-breadth areas:  Value/Meaning, Social/Civic, Art/Expression, and Science/Description. Undergraduate students graduating from APGS will have a total of 32 credit hours of liberal arts course work as part of their degree.  These four breadth areas combined with the two required liberal arts core courses reflect a strong emphasis on integrated learning and ways of knowing that foster the art of critical thinking.   

Ottawa University seeks to prepare its graduates with a breadth of knowledge and ability to integrate that knowledge, as well as to see how knowledge and questions from across different disciplines can enrich understanding of academic fields of study and professional careers.