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President's Podcast: Liberal Arts, Part 2

Solutions for Higher Education engages in deeper reflection of critical issues in the world of colleges and universities.


In Episode 15, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith talked about the confusing and loaded connotation the world has given to ‘liberal arts’. Joined by SUU Provost Brad Cook, the three discussed the interpretation of liberal arts and what it’s intended purpose is at SUU.

In Episode 16, the three continue their discussion, focusing on the true value of a higher education and the benefits of a broad-based degree.

The trio began by evaluating humanity’s greatest issues being dealt with today.

“‘Wicked problems’ in our world include things like poverty, climate change and racism,” said Cook. “What are the types of cognitive and intellectual skill sets are needed to solve these problems? These skills are taught through a liberal education at higher education institutions.”

One value that can solve the world’s ‘wicked problems’ is that of empathy. Upon hearing an opinion that differs from your own, instead of shutting it off try seeing the other person as a good person and learn about that individual. Oftentimes, if a person feels like they’re losing the argument then the discussion turns into an attack which automatically shuts down any productive conversation.

“My favorite quote from Martin Luther King is ‘Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education’,” said Wyatt. “You can be really intelligent and then do harmful things. In fact, intelligence might empower you to do even more harmful things. That’s why all these character traits and compassions are so massively important.”

Another value that can help better the world is that of integrated knowledge.

“The task we have in higher education is to get away from our silos, our disciplinary bubbles,” said Cook. “We need to find ways to communicate with each other and help students make connections across disciplines.”

The double-edged sword that is the wonder of technology both supports and hurts efforts to collaborate with the opposing side.

“There’s been nothing that has fed the political separation of our country more than the ability to separate into tribes and beat each other up on social media,” said Meredith. “The ability to read and interpret a spectrum of ideas might be the most important skill we teach now.”

SUU works to get people to not only avoid de-friending someone of a differing opinion but to also find more successful ways of communicating as a receiver and as a speaker.

Cook asked Wyatt what his thoughts are about the role that higher education plays in a healthy democracy.

“How do you know when you're reading a newspaper whether you're reading something you can believe or not?” said Wyatt. “How do you communicate with people that have opinions that are far distant than yours? We struggle with this in this country today, and I don't think there's ever been a time where it was more important to teach these broad principles that bring us together, rather than push us apart. And the more narrowly focused that degree is, the more difficult it is for us to talk to people who have another narrowly focused world.”

Cook quoted the phrase “The truth shall make you free” and stated, “In ways, what education does is give you options. It frees you up not only from superstition and ignorance but it frees you up for life choices.”


Listen to Episode 16 here:


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