By Gordon Chaffin, LSA 2010
Have you heard of Craig Venter? He’s a pretty big deal. In 2010, his team created a single cell organism — the world’s first “synthetic life.” That may not mean much to you, but here’s something that should matter: this technology will change the world forever. The great breadth of biodiversity that sustains every ecosystem on the Earth is built on tiny microbes that can metabolize nearly anything and in turn produce nearly anything. From the anaerobic heat of the deep sea to the minimally dense upper atmosphere, tiny microbes run our world.
Now, there a paragraph went by and I didn’t say anything about a liberal arts education. Or did I? We’re creating life now, strictly speaking, so what should we say about the ethical application of this technology? What should be legal and illegal about this technology? Beyond the law, what are the social, psychological, economic, political, and philosophical implications of synthetic life? These questions won’t be left alone to the experts — they shouldn’t be in a democracy — so it’ll be up to us to vote in an informed way. We English majors, abnormal psych concentrators, and even that PhD track philosophy student will have to understand this innovation.
Kelle Parsons – BA 2009 Organizational Studies
“Our object is not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all.” Yale Report of 1828
Teresa Sullivan, former U-M provost and current (!) president at the University of Virginia, recently found herself at the center of many of the current debates about higher education: the role of online learning, knowledge vs. certification, university governance, and the value of a liberal arts education.
All of these debates and the events at UVA during a 2-week period this June are incredibly intriguing. The UVA Board of Visitors’ (BOV) plan to force her resignation made President Sullivan the center of the American higher education universe for two weeks – and everyone with complaints about higher education projected their debate on her situation. Recounting this would be duplicative and long – so instead, I refer you to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post, or good old Google – searching Teresa Sullivan or Helen Dragas will return plenty of relevant results. Additional note: after demands by the faculty and students, Sullivan has been reinstated as president.
One of the most interesting debates the UVA situation sparked is regarding the role of liberal arts education. The successful businesspeople on the Board of Visitors are rumored to have been pushing President Sullivan to cut programs in German and the Classics (the BOV denies this, but Teresa Sullivan does make a broad reference to cutting programs associated with the liberal arts in her response to the situation, which can be found here ).
Marina Keegan, Yale class of 2012, wrote an article to her graduating class during commencement week. She not only addresses the importance of a community – which she found at Yale and wanted to continue building as a graduate – she discusses what benefits the liberal arts affords us – a sense of possibility.
KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness: “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything.”
Sadly, Marina died in a car accident May 26. Her obituary, here, describes the dynamic leader and friend she was at Yale and beforehand.
You can read more of her articles at the Yale Daily News, like “Even Artichokes Have Doubts“, which discusses why so many Yale graduates go into consulting or finance.
In Defense of Polymaths
Shared by Leslie Zaikis (BA 2009 Organizational Studies, Political Science), the Harvard Business Review article, “In Defense of Polymaths,” discusses why it’s a benefit to have a broad range of knowledge and interests. That’s so LSA.
Leslie is a member of the LSA Dean’s Young Alumni Council.
Become a Recruiter’s Dream: Mastering the “Jack of All Trades” Method
Written by Jenny Howard (BA 2009 English) for The Levo League - a website for young, professional women - this post tells you why one should be proud to have a broad background (i.e. a liberal arts degree) and how you can prove that it’s valuable to your potential employer in an interview.
Jenny is an adviser of the LSA Dean’s Young Alumni Council.
Huffington Post: College – Samantha Tritsch (BA 2012 American Culture, History) shares her favorite University of Michigan memories, and she feels confident U-M has prepared her for ”what is to come.”
Originally posted in CONSIDER: Magazine Online. CONSIDER: is a non-partisan, non-profit publication operated by students at the University of Michigan. Consider’s purpose is to provide an open forum for discussion of significant issues of campus, community and national interest.
About Samantha Tritsch + Additional blog posts
Brian Choi – BA 2008 Political Science
We are confronted with difficult issues everyday, many of which we feel strongly about. But how does a liberal arts education equip us to process those issues and respond to those whose views may be the opposite of ours? And how much of our viewpoints are based on reason and objectivity as opposed to an emotional appeal to our own notions of morality?
University of Michigan, as an undergraduate school, was recently applauded by Richard Hersh, higher education consultant, on the Colbert Report for its rigor and “wonderful” work with students. His essay with Richard Keeling, excerpt below, further discusses from where his criticisms of higher education are coming. Interestingly, education traditionally attributed to the liberal arts is what Hersh and Keeling see as most important and lacking at many institutions.
“Too many college graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently and clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers.” Read more: Inside Higher Ed
As shared by Matt Papadopoulos (BA 2011 Sociology), this Forbes article shares a Manhattan businessman’s thoughts on the importance of having studied history, especially during a time like the recent financial crisis.
“After considerable thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the broader, more liberal arts-oriented courses I took in my undergraduate years did far more to help me to adapt to what was deemed to be ‘economically unprecedented’ than the more technical lessons I learned in business school.”
Matt is a member of the LSA Dean’s Young Alumni Council.
Elizabeth Williams (BA 2009 Communication Studies, Political Science) guest posts here for UM, Department of Communication Studies’ blog.
Leslie Garrison – BA 2009 Environment (PitE)
Fast Company discusses how adaptability and creativity are the linchpins in a modern professional’s success: “This is Generation Flux: Meet the Pioneers of the New (and Chaotic) Frontier of Business”. Do you think liberal arts will help you be a member of “Generation Flux”?
Leslie is a member of the LSA Dean’s Young Alumni Council and President of Wellspring Energy, LLC. You can reach her at email@example.com or 201-841-7690 to further discuss the alternative energy industry.