by Anna Bratulic
After two decades, the Liberal Arts College (LAC) is still trying to fill the cultural cavity left by many Quebec schools.
In an attempt to counter the increasing desertion of cultural courses in the province, LAC still gives its students an extensive selection of required reading in literature, history, philosophy, art, music and science to give them a chronicle of the Western world, from Biblical times to the present day.
Since 1978, students have enrolled in the LAC, one of Concordia's five interdisciplinary colleges, in small but steady batches of about 50 a year.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the College will spotlight its favourite subject: books. All its commemorative lectures and colloquia will be centered on the theme of "Reading Great Books, Reading Ourselves: The Books of Our Lives."
"One of the values of the College is that you become educated by reading," said founding professor Fred Krantz. "Our students tend to enjoy culture and reading. They're not afraid of a big book."
Students wrestle with the likes of Plato, More, Kant, Berlin, Sophocles, Dante, Melville, Eliot, Vasari, Boethius, Wagner, Darwin and Hawking, to name only a few, and sometimes express feelings of both frustration and joy.
"We see true education as a kind of conversation between past and present," Krantz said. "When you read St. Augustine, you're really talking to him."
The three-year program offered by the College leads to a BA in Western Society and Culture. Each year is a chronological progression beginning where the previous one left off. First-year students begin with the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
Students are also encouraged to participate in the annual trip to New York City, where class work is brought to life with stops at museums and a night at the opera. Last year's group got a chance to see Don Giovanni at the Met.
By the end of their third year, students will have acquainted themselves with the thoughts and theories of modern-day intellectuals like Northrop Frye and Allen Ginsberg, and they will have honed their writing skills. They might also be planning an extensive European trip, as they did last May, when some students went to Italy. In previous years, students have gone to Israel, Greece, Austria, and Russia.
Beginning in January, LAC will offer a three-credit course titled "Great Conversations" for non-LAC students. The course is intended to act as valuable cultural putty, particularly for students who are not enrolled in arts programs.
"The students will be reading significant material," Krantz said. "They'll be conversing with teachers, and hopefully, with each other."
LAC graduates have gone off in different directions after graduation. While some have opted to go to graduate school, others have careers in business, medicine, law -- even stand-up comedy.
Krantz believes that a liberal arts education would do everyone some good. "Even if you withdrew to a desert island, the College would be useful. You would know what books to take."