Meet the Hutchins Department

The Hutchins School of Liberal Studies that SSU knows today did not always have that name. Back in 1968, faculty, staff and students referred to this program as “Tutorials in Liberal Arts and Science Program.” Dr. Warren Olson, the first professor of philosophy and humanities at SSU recommended a new name; one that embodied their core values and expanded the minds of students. Olson requested permission from Robert Hutchins, former dean of Yale University and President of University of Chicago to name the school “Robert Maynard Hutchins School of Liberal Studies.” Though the school has not always had the same name, the core principles have remained constant.

Today, the Hutchins School is unlike any major. What makes this department so unique is the way they customize each student’s educational experience based on three different tracks.

Track I: A personalized study plan that allows students to organize an emphasis within their major, incorporating units from outside LIBS into their area of study.

Track II: Students earn a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and fulfill the prerequisites to enter any Teaching Credential Program in California.

Track III: Students fulfill requirements for a BA in Liberal Studies and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential which qualifies students to immediately teach in the California public elementary schools upon completion of the program.

Once accepted in this major as freshmen, students have the opportunity to learn in close-knit classrooms of 15 students. The Hutchins curriculum is different in the fact they do not follow the typical GE pattern. Students enroll in one 12 unit course per semester for the first two years and thereby complete all GE requirements except mathematics. The courses are interdisciplinary and include Zen center field trips, laboratory assignments, writing a 15-page autobiography, copious amounts of reading and writing, and exploration of curricula from the arts, literature, film, and social sciences.

Students engage in seminar-based classes that are structured similarly to graduate school seminars. Each class is intimate and is intended for intellectual conversations. “From day one, freshman are provided works of literature which they are to read and then form an opinion about, and then be ready to articulate their position” says Heidi LaMoreaux, Director and Department Chair, Hutchins School of Liberal Studies.

One of the biggest misconceptions about this program is that all Hutchins students are looking to become teachers. Yes, about 70% of their students fall in that category, but others go into careers in law, film, non-profits and other fields.

Due to the intense discussions built over the course of four years, Hutchins students going on to graduate school do extremely well in graduate courses due to their ability to participate well in seminar discussions and to articulate their own ideas.

Hutchins aims to instill in their students a desire to continue learning throughout their lifetime; in fact, as mentioned in the Hutchins 2013 Program Review, 100% of students surveyed consider themselves to be “lifelong learners."

A recent alumna shared, “Hutchins helped move local and global issues from my heart to my head. I learned how to stop simply feeling about injustice and start actively becoming a part of the solution.”

The Hutchins Department is not only a major but a community at Sonoma State University. The learning tactics instilled freshman year and across those four years allows the students to grow with one another, build on new ideas and become successful and independent thinkers.

Please meet the Hutchins Department.

ABOVE: Eric McGuckin, Ianthe Brautigan Swensen, Stephanie Dyer, Heidi LaMoreaux, Debora Hammond, Donna Garbesi, Ben Frymer, Kathryn Atwood, Francisco Vazquez (kneeling).