In a world where ideas are constantly being formed and reformed, a liberal arts education provides a broader, more global perspective on almost everything, including the socio-political views prevalent in contemporary discourse. It promotes critical thinking, reasoning, enquiry, and communication abilities, all of which are essential skills in navigating today’s complex world.
At the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (SLASS), SRM University-AP, students are encouraged to embrace research interests and are empowered with skills they can use to pursue further knowledge. The goal is to equip them to become future knowledge creators with the ability to acquire, create, and share multi-disciplinary knowledge that enhances their understanding of human experiences.
Leading the cohort is Professor Vishnupad, whose impressive academic career spans over two decades and over two continents. With a doctorate in Anthropology from Columbia University in New York, USA, he has received a wide range of research fellowships and awards throughout his academic career. He has also taught in various capacities at renowned institutions such as SUNY, Binghamton, Columbia University, NY, Hampshire College, Amherst in the USA, and Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India, before joining SRM University-AP as a Professor and Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
With such an accomplished leader at the helm, it’s no wonder that the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is such a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment. From learning critical thinking and communication skills to gaining a deeper understanding of human experiences, the school provides students with an education that enriches their lives and the world around them.
First of its Kind
One of the major objectives of India’s National Education Policy is to decompartmentalise and expand the education sector’s boundaries by breaking the rigid barrier between professional and liberal arts education. Educational structures and institutions in the country are thus acquiring a more flexible and dynamic outlook while contemplating the future of liberal arts education.
Keeping these shifts in the educational landscape in India, SRM University-AP was established in 2017, the first of its kind in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh. Emerging as a research-intensive university for a new millennium, it introduced the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (SLASS) in 2018 to set new benchmarks for liberal arts education in the country. The school comprises six departments: Literature and Languages, History, Psychology, Economics, Commerce, and Liberal Arts.
Establishing Fertile Ground for Liberal Arts Education
The School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (SLASS) at SRM University-AP aims to establish a fertile ground for liberal arts education in India. Through a robust, socially relevant, innovative curriculum, a world-class committed faculty, and imaginative and engaged pedagogic methods, it strives to establish a globally acclaimed liberal arts programme.
The school firmly believes that ethical education is the most critical element of progressive social transformation in any society. It envisions students being brand ambassadors of these ideals and being recognised for their dedicated and systematic approach towards achieving social change sustainably and progressively benefiting all stakeholders. This will be possible since the school is blessed to have the presence of departments from other disciplines, namely, science, engineering, technology, management, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and synergise with them.
The School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (SLASS) was previously known as The School of Liberal Arts and Basic Sciences (SLABS) at SRM University-AP. Prof. Nicholas Dirks, Prof. Janaki Bakhle, and Prof. Valentine Daniel were the advisors of the school at the time of its inception. They conducted various sessions and workshops to promote the school across the country. Later in 2020, Basic Sciences were made a part of the School of Engineering and Sciences (SEAS), and SLABS was rechristened as SLASS.
Breaking the Academic Silos of Disciplines
The true spirit of liberal arts education lies in breaking the academic silos of disciplines and offering students a more comprehensive integrated learning experience. SRM University-AP has integrated research with undergraduate programmes to further this idea. The university provides research-oriented courses and allows students to submit a UG-level dissertation or project at the end of the final year. Students at the school have also published research papers in indexed journals under the supervision of the faculty.
The Democratisation of the Educational Process
SRM University-AP offers a modern liberal arts education with a curriculum promoting breadth and depth of knowledge. The curriculum is sufficiently flexible and gives prominence to the student’s choice. They get to play a significant role in shaping their programme. This facilitates the democratisation of the educational process.
Fostering the Importance of Liberal Arts Education
Liberal Arts has always been an underrated field of study in a society heavily inclined towards Engineering and Sciences. The number of students opting for the domain is considerably lower. What made the difference was how the university, especially the leadership team, has continued to foster the importance of liberal arts education, notwithstanding the adverse conditions.
It has been recognised that the effects of economic liberalisation and increased globalisation over two and a half decades in India now have created situations where students are willing to explore, experiment and discover their innate potential and determine their career choices, responsibly engage with social life, and in a manner that is ethical, humanist as well as ecologically sustainable.
The school has consistently conveyed to the students how changes in the last two decades have opened prospective sites for employment and new career options, such as in NGOs, think tanks, research institutions, policy initiatives, entrepreneurship, teaching, higher studies, and the like.
Beyond the Confines of the Classroom
From its inception, SLASS at SRM University-AP has attempted to encourage students to participate in and organise activities beyond the curriculum, with a number of studentrun clubs and societies such as the Arts, Culture and Technology Society (ACTS), Movie Club, Theatre ClubThespia, and Debate Society.
The ACTS, for instance, has hosted a wide range of events on the university campus, such as the first Literary Fest in 2019 (La art la pour la vie- Literary fest). ACTS also organise weekly programmes such as Guftagu and Chai, Debate Friday, reading circles, and Open Mic Session where the students discuss, write, share, engage and perform beyond the confines of the classroom. The ACTS also publishes a monthly student-run magazine Khalbali. The magazine contains essays, feature stories, and artwork of various students on the campus.
Striking the Right Balance Between Different Learning Approaches
SRM University-AP, with its aspiration to be a world-class university, envisions the holistic development of students through multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary learning approaches. The emphasis is on developing both theoretical and skill or practice-based knowledge. SLASS at SRM University-AP is a space for interdisciplinary research, thought and pedagogy. Interdisciplinarity refers to an active and productive exchange between the various science and humanities disciplines within SLASS. It facilitates engagement and conversation across the social and natural science divide. The school is drawing on intellectual resources across the other schools of the university, identifying convergences and research themes where both can symbiotically benefit. Over the next couple of years, the school strives to establish a Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies to institutionalise that process.
One of the prominent features of SLASS is an expansive new-age curriculum offering a wide range of choices to the students in their major and minor programmes. The curriculum of the BA/BSc programmes in SLASS is designed to focus on interactive learning through critical thinking as against rote learning and performance in examinations. True to the spirit of liberal arts education, the school offers students a list of foundational courses in their first and second semesters. These courses introduce students to foundational thoughts in humanities and sciences with an interdisciplinary approach.
Every department offers a list of core electives of 20 credits. The core electives aim to introduce and train students in key specialised areas of their respective departments. “For instance, the Department of History offers a specialisation in global history to the BA (Honours) students, where they are taught courses on Sufism, Central Islamic Lands, Social and Cultural Patterns of Ancient Civilisations, Colonial Africa, and Colonial Latin America,” explained Dr Maanvender Singh, Faculty Coordinator of the Department of History at SRM University-AP.
Emphasising Rational Thoughts with Liberal Education
Liberal Arts and Social Sciences are both a curriculum and an educational philosophy. Its central tenet is to empower learners with a mind and skill set that enables them to be critical contributors to a complex, diverse, and changing society. The educational philosophy that animates the liberal arts is grounded in the belief that there are many ways of viewing the world, and each lens is worthy of consideration.
Liberal education strives to engender students’ elemental skills. It emphasises rational thought and aims to develop robust critical thinking and analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, and a solid moral compass. The present and future job market will demand human skills that liberal arts institutions teach exceedingly well. While technical skills are essential for many careers, employers are increasing their focus on human skills. Today’s technology cannot directly replicate these skills.
The rapidly changing employment landscape and the continuing technological revolution imply the extreme relevance of liberal arts education. Liberal arts develop critical, creative, and lateral thinking perspectives. A holistic combination of these three can impart valuable skills to fuel one’s career in a fast-changing competitive job market. Communication and collaboration skills are crucial in the globalised world, and liberal arts can efficiently transmit these skills to students. The multi-disciplinary approach, which forms the core of liberal arts, can give the students a deeper understanding of the world and empower them to view things from multiple perspectives. Perhaps, the most pronounced contribution of this discipline is to bestow flexibility to the students. This skill allows students to create more choices and possibilities in this competitive world.