Robert Maynard Hutchins

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It

will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, educator (1899-1977)

Hutchins was president of the University of Chicago beginning in 1929 and advocated some controversial changes in curriculum. He believed passionately in a true liberal arts education and saw the current (in 1920) course of academia as providing classes in whatever was popular at the moment. He called it “the service-station conception of a university.”

Hutchins’ Idea of a Liberal Education

The LIBERAL ARTS are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one, or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.

The liberal artist learns to read, write, speak, listen, understand, and think. He learns to reckon, measure, and manipulate matter, quantity, and motion in order to predict, produce and exchange. As we live in the tradition, whether we know it or not, so we are all liberal artists, whether we know it or not. We all practice the liberal arts, well or badly, all the time every day. As we should understand the tradition as well as we can in order to understand ourselves, so we should be as good liberal artists as we can in order to become as fully human as we can.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, president/chancellor of the University of Chicago (1929-1951)

The University of Chicago has a web with more information.


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