By Elizabeth Rush ’11
"When I was hired back in 1977, I was told there would never even be an English major, let alone a school devoted to the liberal arts," says Dr. Bob Begiebing, an English professor and the founder of the Master of Fine Arts program who retired last spring.
Back then, all general education courses – including English, composition and the humanities – were part of the School of Business, a far cry from the full-fledged school that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Throughout the '70s, young soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were going back to school with the help of the GI Bill®. And the business-centric education SNHU, then New Hampshire College, offered was a hot commodity. But as the ’70s turned into the ’80s, the economy faltered and government money started to run dry.
If the college was to survive, it would have to expand beyond the boundaries of its existing model. Those faculty members who worked in service of accounting curriculums and better business practices were in a unique position to transform the college’s image from the inside out.
“It was very satisfying to start teaching Business Composition – basically a course in how to write a letter – and then, some 10 years later, begin to teach English literature and eventually even a humanities course,” said Dr. Robert Craven, who also joined the faculty in 1977.
Slowly but surely, the Liberal Arts Division was born.
“It happened in a way none of us particularly expected,” Begiebing said. “All of us long-term faculty members began to branch out a little here and a little there.” Faculty redesigned the college’s curriculum and course offerings. In 2000, then-President Richard Gustafson unveiled plans to erect a number of new buildings on campus, including Robert Frost Hall, the future home of the School of Liberal Arts.
Foundations and Frontiers
In 2001, New Hampshire College became Southern New Hampshire University. That same year the School of Liberal Arts was born.
In 2003, the McIninch Gallery opened on campus, hosting a rotating exhibition schedule while also growing the institutions’ private collection.
“To have real art available on campus, not just framed posters, to me, meant that we really were a School of Liberal Arts. University implies something universal, not just a single focus. After all that time, we really had become something more universal,” said Craven, the gallery’s founder.
Under former Dean Roberta Salper and current Dean Karen Erickson, the School of Liberal Arts really came into its own, offering courses in a number of fields, from creative writing and graphic design to environmental management and sociology.
While the three largest majors continue to be in the social and behavioral sciences – psychology, justice studies and communication – the hard sciences have grown at an unprecedented clip over the last half a decade. To honor the increased depth and breadth of the school’s course offerings, the School of Liberal Arts changed its name to the School of Arts and Sciences last year.
Today the school offers 18 majors and employs 45 full-time faculty. In 2011-12, SAS will offer four new majors (mathematics, middle school mathematics education, music education and middle school science education), house its first artist in residence, and team up with the New Hampshire Writer’s Project to formulate a new colloquium on art and politics.
As Erickson, says, “By connecting the humanities, sciences, fine arts, mathematics, technology and social inquiry, students prepare for a community role that is as central to their individual success as it is to a sustainable society.”