New school rethinks arts and humanities education

Next fall, Western will welcome 25 undergraduate students to its new School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH), a unique-to-Canada program offering what organizers call an elite liberal arts education.

“There was an impetus and the idea, floating around the faculty, to revisit the liberal arts model at a time when the disciplines are increasingly fragmented and separated from one another,” said Joel Faflak, the school’s director and professor of English at Western. “The school came from the idea of putting the arts and humanities front and center; it’s a flagship for the arts and humanities.”

The program will provide students with interdisciplinary study options, new language skills, experiential learning, interaction with new technologies as well as international travel and exchange options.

With appointed teaching fellows from the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, the school will be housed in the D.B. Weldon Library and offer a standalone curriculum.

Faflak explained potential candidates, who apply directly to the program, will be screened based on a portfolio showcasing exemplary academic work, community engagement and extracurricular activities.

Classes will include team teaching from the school’s fellows. Students will learn also by engaging in the community – in museums, with community organizations and other cultural institutions. The fourth-year capstone course will include international travel and exchange opportunities.

“The experiential part, people don’t tend to associate with the arts and humanities. We’re trying to raise the profile and concentrate on some of the things we do best,” said Michael Milde, Arts & Humanities dean.

Faflak agrees. “We’re not just training academics – we’re training a broad range of students to do a lot of different things, and that can’t be a bad thing,” he said.

Students will graduate with a double major – one from the school, another from an existing program within the faculty.

“We won’t be a professional school or program; that’s not what we want to be. What we want to do is get the idea across that educating the imagination, educating students in the work of culture, has always been a vital necessity. We want to have (students) think about their work and its impact on them as citizens and the world at large,” Faflak said.

“It’s not just about people getting their degrees in English or Visual Arts. It’s about broadening the purpose of a liberal arts education, which is vital, especially in this moment in time, the way the globe is going. We need creative thinkers, imaginative thinkers and arts and humanities is, quite frankly, one of the best places to do that kind of training.”