College of Liberal Arts

Catalog Home

Faculty Office Bldg. (47), Room 31
Phone: 805.756.2359

Dean: Philip J. Williams

Associate Dean for Student Success: Kate Murphy

Associate Dean for Diversity and Curriculum: Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti

Associate Dean for Operations: Josh Machamer

Director of Research Engagement and Internationalization: Dawn Neill

Academic Programs 

Program name Program type
Agricultural Communication Minor
Anthropology and Geography BS, Minor
Art and Design BFA
Art History Minor
Asian Studies Minor
Child Development BS, Minor
Chinese Minor
Communication Studies BA, Minor
Comparative Ethnic Studies BA
Cross Disciplinary Studies Minor in Computing for Interactive Arts Minor
Dance Minor
English MA, BA, Minor
Ethnic Studies Minor
Ethics, Public Policy, Science and Technology Minor
French Minor
Gender, Race, Culture, Science and Technology Minor
German Minor
Gerontology Minor, Certificate
Global Politics Minor
Graphic Communication BS, Minor
History MA, BA, Minor
Indigenous Studies in Natural Resources and the Environment Minor
Interdisciplinary Studies BA
Italian Studies Minor
Japanese Minor
Journalism BS
Latin American Studies Minor
Law and Society Minor
Liberal Arts & Engineering Studies BA
Linguistics Minor
Media Arts, Society and Technology Minor
Music BA, Minor
Philosophy BA, Minor
Photography and Video Minor
Political Science BA, Minor
Printed Electronics and Functional Imaging MS
Psychology MS, BS, Minor
Public Policy MPP
Queer Studies Minor
Religious Studies Minor
Science Communication Minor
Sociology BA, Minor
Spanish BA, Minor
Studio Art Minor
Technical and Professional Communication Certificate
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Certificate
Theatre Arts BA, Minor
Western Intellectual Tradition Minor
Women's and Gender Studies Minor

The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) provides students the opportunity to study the record of imaginative, reflective, and cultural experience across multiple groups of people and to add to that record via a variety of Learn by Doing activities that emphasize active learning inside and outside of the classroom. The CLA is home to the foundational disciplines that form the scholarly bases for cultural awareness, knowledge and skills, making the college’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion central to the college's curriculum and identity. The college also seeks to relate itself to the technological disciplines in ways that help contribute to the solution of problems from global and multidisciplinary perspectives. Accordingly, a wide range of courses is offered to serve every student without regard to specialized professional interests.

Five broad areas of knowledge are represented: the fine and performing arts, communications, humanities, social sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. While the college has great breadth and diversity, unity is found in a study of the most engaging subject of all – human endeavor. Whatever the focus, the programs in the CLA share a settled purpose: to help students know themselves, understand individual and group values and potential within a cultural context, and understand our society and its institutions.

The CLA offers a wide selection of foundational courses that provide students with a strong grounding in critical thinking and written and oral communication. The disciplines of the liberal arts are explored at both introductory and advanced levels; students are encouraged to further pursue areas of interest through the college's many minors. A broad array of classes that fulfill Cal Poly's general education and USCP requirements are also offered.

The college also offers an interdisciplinary major through its Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts (ISLA) Department. The department is also home to four minors that explore the intersection of science, technology and society. For more information, see the ISLA Department.

The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies (LAES) is an interdisciplinary major offered jointly by the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering. It allows students to combine coursework from both areas to explore cutting-edge technologies and their applications to areas such as media arts, technology policy, and technical writing and communications. The degree is offered jointly by both colleges. For more information, see Interdisciplinary Degree Programs.

International issues are well represented in the college curriculum, and study abroad opportunities are also strongly supported. CLA faculty regularly offer classes in programs such as Cal Poly's Summer Study in London, Thailand Study Program, Valladolid (Spain) Program, and Australia Abroad Program. The college is also involved with the Peru Summer Study Program, which provides internships that complement the minor in Latin American Studies. These and other study abroad programs are administered by the Cal Poly International Center. In addition to current and emerging direct exchanges, the college is also building capacity in the areas of virtual exchange; connecting students and faculty with their peers around the globe through virtual collaboration. For further information, see Cal Poly International Center.

The College of Liberal Arts offers a wide range of learn-by-doing opportunities. Students from all majors can participate in the musical ensembles, theater productions, and dance performances. The college supports the Central Coast Center for Arts Education and the University Art Gallery. Students, especially those in the social and behavioral sciences, have access to research experiences and participate in a variety of internships at the local, state, and national government level, and with community, social services, and educational organizations, serving a number of populations. The CLA also partners with the Student Diversity and Belonging to offer training to facilitate Intergroup Dialogues sections. Students contribute to publications that showcase their accomplishments in the disciplines, such as  Byzantium (English), The Forum (History), Paideia (Political Science), and Sprinkle (Women's and Gender Studies). These publications are often printed by the student-run University Graphic Systems. Students also participate in the award-winning student media organizations Mustang News, KCPR Radio, and MNTV, all part of the Mustang Media Group.

The college has a major responsibility for activities that promote equity and inclusion and enhance the cultural and intellectual life of the University and the community. In addition to the annual CLA Annual Social Justice Teach In, departments regularly host speakers and present films and other programming. The college sponsors the Spanos Theatre and Cal Poly Arts, offering a full range of cultural programs, including exhibits, concerts, literary presentations, and dramatic and other productions, while fostering artistic development and accomplishment across the campus.

College of Liberal Arts graduates will be able to:

  1. Question assumptions through critical inquiry.
  2. Be innovative; think creatively and constructively.
  3. Communicate effectively orally and in writing.
  4. Develop scholarly depth within their disciplines.
  5. Understand the value of cross-disciplinary knowledge.
  6. Collaborate productively in diverse settings and with those different from them.
  7. Make reasoned, ethical, and socially and ecologically responsible decisions.
  8. Understand the self as product of - and participant in - global traditions of art, ideas, and values.
  9. Engage in life-long learning.

Interdisciplinary Minors

Agricultural Communication Minor

An interdisciplinary minor sponsored by the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts. For more information, see the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences section.

Indigenous Studies in Natural Resources and the Environment Minor

An interdisciplinary minor sponsored by the departments of Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences and Ethnic Studies. For more information, see the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences section.

Western Intellectual Tradition Minor

Professor and Director: D. Kenneth Brown

This minor is designed to appeal not only to majors in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science and Mathematics, but to a cross-section of students in major programs throughout the university community. It focuses on the accomplishments of the Western intellectual tradition through courses that trace the development of literary expression, philosophical and scientific thought, and historical understanding from their beginnings to the modern world. Courses in the minor provide direct experience with significant works of the Western tradition, and also expose students to crucial ideas and themes that shaped Western thought and culture. Such exposure cultivates the intellectual skills of analysis and creative expression, and promotes an understanding of the inherent intellectual debate and diversity within the Western intellectual tradition.

Learning objectives for the minor:

1. Explain the development of literary expression, philosophical and scientific thought, or historical understanding from their beginnings to the modern world.

2. Explain crucial ideas and themes that shaped Western thought and culture.

3. Analyze crucial ideas and themes that shaped Western thought and culture.

4. Articulate the the inherent intellectual debate and diversity within the Western intellectual tradition.

Degree Requirements and Curriculum


How to Read Course Descriptions

CLA Courses

CLA 100. College Success Seminar. 1 unit

Term Typically Offered: F


Academic planning and resources, career exploration, extracurricular activities, and time management skills to support first year students' transitions to Cal Poly and the College of Liberal Arts. Support network to facilitate personal and academic success. Credit/No Credit grading only. 1 lecture.

Joshua T. Machamer
B.A., Whittier College, 1993; M.F.A., Pennsylvania State University, 2000.

Kate Murphy
B.A., University of Virginia, 2001; M.A. Johns Hopkins University, 2003; Ph.D., 2007

Dawn Neill
B.A., Louisiana State University, 1996; M.A., 1999; M.A., University of Washington, 2004; Ph.D., 2007.

Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti
B.A., University of California, Davis, 1996; M.S., University of Kansas, 2000; Ph.D., 2003.