Skip Navigation LinksHome / Liberal Arts Lowdown / Who Studies the Liberal Arts? / Richard North Patterson

Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Richard North Patterson

Author
Ohio Wesleyan University, Class of 1968
Formerly a lawyer whose career involved private practice and public service, Richard North Patterson is the best-selling author of 22 novels. A frequent speaker and writer on political and social issues, Patterson has served on the boards of numerous educational institutions or advocacy organizations and was the chair of Common Cause, the citizens lobby founded by John Gardner.

Patterson is a 1968 alumnus of Ohio Wesleyan University.
At 66, I’m now able to contemplate a rich life as a lawyer in important and challenging cases, as the best-selling author of 22 novels, and, most importantly, as the father of five children from ages 42 to 19. As I contemplate the foundation for all this, I keep returning to an essential passage: my liberal arts education at Ohio Wesleyan University.
 
I arrived there at 17, my previous existence bounded by life in a small suburb and the strictures of a traditional high school education. Immediately, I had the wonderful experience of finding myself among peers from across the country and around the world, random but constant encounters that exposed me to personalities, beliefs, and experiences that were new to me. I met skilled and passionate professors for whom my education was not the dutiful byproduct of research, but the essence of their mission—not only teaching in a challenging and engaging way, but making themselves accessible as mentors and as sounding boards for ambitions and ideas. I was exposed to areas of interest, such as art and music, that engendered a pleasure in creativity and beauty and have enriched my life ever since. Among both the faculty and my peers, I was enveloped by a keen interest in how our society served the interests of our fellow citizens, how our social and political institutions functioned, and how they can be made better. Of great importance to me, then and now, I immersed myself in studies that helped me appreciate the written word, as well as how our past affects our present and our future. When I consider a career spent writing novels that deal with complicated political and social issues, how greater forces affect the lives of individual men and women, and the various challenges faced by people in such different places as the Middle East and Africa, it is clear that this range of interests was nurtured by my four years in Ohio Wesleyan.

Even within the parameters of one’s career, in this ever-changing environment, the ability to think broadly and creatively—the essence of liberal arts—is fundamental to professional success.

More broadly, I believe that a liberal arts education is essential to a truly civilized society—to breeding empathy and compassion for our fellow citizens, to helping create an informed and engaged electorate, and to providing leaders with a broad and nuanced view of their obligations and responsibilities. It is not enough to see college as a trade school: Even assuming that one will ply the same trade for 40 years or so, such a narrow focus will not provide citizens who can fully contribute outside the workplace, where so much of our lives take place. Even within the parameters of one’s career, in this ever-changing environment, the ability to think broadly and creatively—the essence of liberal arts—is fundamental to professional success. The fact that I have enjoyed two careers may be a luxury. But for the next generation, the ability to successfully master very different skills will be essential. That is why all five of my children have enjoyed and profited from liberal arts educations, and why they have happily and successfully taken on new challenges in the broader world.
 
For all these reasons, I am infinitely grateful for my time at Ohio Wesleyan and for the fact that my children have enjoyed the same benefits that inform my life still.
See who else studies the liberal arts.
No