Dr. Scott Huelin, Union University English professor and director of the Honors Community, gave a thoughtfully crafted and passionately delivered academic reflection of his career on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 for the Faculty of the Year chapel.
He titled his address, “The Liberal Arts Appendix, or Why Your Gospel Is Too Small.” According to Huelin, the function of liberal arts is not entirely lost, but it has been forgotten. Arts and sciences courses have been reduced to so small a view as core classes to get out of the way. But in reality, it is in these general core classes—history, psychology, sociology, science, art and many more—that help shape students’ minds and develop their character.
Subjects such as political science and philosophy challenge students to take an approach that seeks to determine how and why. Visual arts and music courses train students to see and hear beauty, deepening within their minds thoughtful appreciation. Studying literature fosters empathy in students as they read stories, analyze plot structure and character development and attempt to place themselves in the story or context.
“Liberal arts curriculum can and should aim to cultivate character and humanity,” Huelin said. “And it is reason developed because of such curriculum that can direct us to higher end us and establish within us an understanding humanity far beyond ourselves.”
Huelin illustrated his stance with a historical comparison of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Born a slave and emancipated at the age of nine, Washington supported vocational education that taught students practical, employable skills. Oppositely, DuBois, who was born free from slavery, argued for liberal education that taught both practical job skills and personal leadership skills. Through this contrast, Huelin explained that while he respects both men, he sides with the school of thought held by DuBois.
“Vocational education makes you a better worker and wage earner,” Huelin said. “But liberal education accomplishes that and makes you a better human in a normative sense.”
In other words, a human being is both body and soul. One’s soul is comprised of all appetites, desires and reason. According to Huelin, this is a consumerist world trying to reduce everyone to brainless, pleasure-seeking consumers, but everyone must instead combat this pressure by pursuing something so much greater—reason. Reason gives way to self-transcendence, which yields in humans a capacity to learn from those different from themselves. It is only then that humans find themselves with deepened empathy, heightened understanding and enriched character.
Huelin received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of North Carolina and then continued to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He joined the Union University faculty in 2009 as the director of the Honors Community. In his time at Union, he has taught numerous classes and invested in countless students, challenging each student to pursue excellence, cultivate character and keep looking up to the Lord.
Huelin prays that his recognition as this year’s faculty of the year will not be merely an achieved status and earned certificate. Instead, he hopes that this award will serve as a daily reminder of the character he strives to possess and the commitment he seeks to uphold as he continues in his career.
Photo courtesy of Kristi McMurry Woody