After two years of conversation among student, faculty and administrative representatives, Willamette University is changing the name of its College of Liberal Arts (CLA) to the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), a change which will be effective this upcoming fall term.
While the name of Willamette’s undergraduate college is changing, its commitment to liberal arts education remains unwavering.
“We’re trying to be more transparent and thoughtful about what students coming into the college search process are thinking about,” University President Stephen Thorsett said.
Willamette is part of the Annapolis Group, which is an organization made up of over 130 liberal arts colleges. The group commissioned a set of surveys on college applicant’s understanding of the words ‘liberal arts,’ and found that many didn’t understand that it is a broad term that includes the sciences, fine arts, social sciences and the humanities.
“Even in academia, especially at big universities, faculty use the phrase ‘liberal arts’ to mean the humanities, or sometimes the humanities and social sciences, as the opposite of STEM,” Thorsett said. “What they found was that in every demographic, the presence of the phrase ‘liberal arts’ reduced the interest in the school, including amongst students who were only looking at liberal arts colleges.”
Several other liberal arts institutions, including Lewis & Clark College, have already changed the name of their undergraduate college in response to these findings.
After being presented with this data, the Board of Trustees then asked the University Counsel, which is a group made up of student, faculty and administrative representatives, to discuss a possible CLA name change. These representatives additionally consulted their individual groups on the matter. According to Thorsett, many among the faculty thought the name change was an important change to make.
Last summer, Willamette reported to the Board that there didn’t seem to be any faculty or community concern, and in their October meeting, the Board voted to make the name change. The Board will vote on it again in their upcoming February meeting to finalize the change, as any bylaw requires two votes to change.
Willamette is already using CAS in advertising to prospective students, but the name change will not officially happen on campus until the fall 2020 semester to give the University time to transition. Willamette is already scheduled for a regular website update this summer, and plans to use up the CLA-branded items on campus instead of disposing all the old items. Some things on campus will continue to read CLA, even after the name change.
“Somewhere in the chapel there’s some stained glass that says CLA. It will always say CLA.It’s always part of our history,” Thorsett said.
Willamette is also considering shifting to using bachelor of science degrees instead of bachelor of arts degrees in its science fields. This would not change any of the requirements needed to graduate. In 2001, the University decided to stop offering bachelor of science degrees to become more similar to Ivy League schools, which only offer bachelor of arts degrees. According to Thorsett, this is not well understood on the West coast because students are often comparing Willamette to big universities, not other liberal arts colleges.
“It’s purely a labelling thing, but counselors don’t always understand that and students don’t understand that. So, we’re trying to think, what do students, especially first-generation students, understand about what we do and where are their understandings different from what we really do and just trying to make it more transparent. That’s a general theme of all of our admissions at the moment,” explained Thorsett.
Additionally, the Board is reviewing the University’s mission statement. This review process is tied to the accreditation process, which happens in seven-year cycles. The Board has delayed the official discussion until their May meeting, but conversations are already taking place on campus.
“There’ve been some proposals for revisions that have been discussed by the University counsel… and I know the CLA faculty have had a discussion,” Thorsett said. “But I think there’s almost certainly going to be a change in emphasis there. The new mission statement is likely to call on the University to be of service to the Northwest and the world, where the current one doesn’t. So, you can think of that as trying to express the motto at the institutional level instead of just for each of our graduates.”
The mission statement draft that was discussed last year, before the name change, used the term ‘liberal arts and sciences.’ Thorsett doesn’t yet know the phrase that will be used to describe the college in the finalized mission statement. Regardless, Willamette will continue to follow the liberal arts model.
“It’s always been a really important part of Willamette. It’ll always be a part of us, it’s just a matter of how we talk about it,” said Thorsett.