Albert Outler: From Wofford to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

April 4th, 2013 by Dan Mathewson

The following piece is reprinted from the “From the Archives” blog. Written by Wofford archivist, Phillip Stone, the article tells the story of the distinguished Wofford alumnus, Albert C. Outler, whose understanding of his own liberal arts education is as relevant today as it was in the early 20th century.

Many Wofford alumni may have never heard of Dr. Albert C. Outler, but he was one of the most influential Wofford alums in modern Methodist history.

Born in Thomasville, Georgia, Dr. Outler was the son of a Methodist minister and district superintendent in the South Georgia Conference. He came to Wofford in 1925 and was a stellar student, earning distinctions in Bible, English, history and sociology as a sophomore and in Bible, Greek, geology, religious education, English, and chemistry as a junior. He earned enough credits to graduate a year ahead of his class, taking his AB degree in 1928. After graduation, he became a clergy member of the South Georgia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church and earned his BD degree from Emory University. He studied for his PhD in religion at Yale University, taking that degree in 1938. He became an instructor, and later professor at Duke University in 1938, remaining there until 1945, when he answered Yale’s call to their faculty. While at Yale, he became the Dwight Professor of Theology. In 1951, he moved to Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, where he spent the rest of his career.

That’s the official list of appointments, but it completely fails to do justice to Albert Outler’s contribution to Methodist theology. Outler’s 1961 article “Toward a Re-appraisal of John Wesley as a Theologian” helped revive John Wesley’s reputation as an original theologian rather than a “cult hero and theological featherweight,” in the words of an Emory alumni magazine article about Outler. He is regarded as the most original Methodist theologian in the history of the church and was one of the foremost experts in the life and works of John Wesley. He was the author of numerous books and articles and a much sought-after speaker and lecturer. He was the editor of The Works of John Wesley and was the principal annotator of Wesley’s sermons. He created the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” to describe the basis of John Wesley’s theology – the reliance on scripture, reason, church tradition, and personal experience in reaching theological conclusions.

He was a representative at the World Methodist Council and at the World Council of Churches, and from 1962-65, was an official observer at the Second Vatican Council.

Wofford honored Albert Outler in a number of ways. He was elected an alumnus member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1948, was awarded an honorary degree in 1952, gave the Commencement address in 1968, and received the alumni distinguished service award in 1987. The Albert C. Outler Chair in Religion was endowed in his honor as well. In 1985, only a few years before he died, and over fifty years after he graduated from Wofford, Albert Outler presented the inaugural Lecture in Religion, Ethics, and Society at the college. In that lecture, he paid tribute to the liberal arts education he received at Wofford.

In a letter he wrote to Lewis Jones in 1980, responding to a request for his thoughts on the liberal education he received at Wofford, Outler explained, “my vague recollection is that my college major was English, but it has been the discoveries of what could be done with the English language that have stayed with me after the details of the courses have long since blurred.” He noted that he never learned enough in any discipline to be considered an “expert,” and in that sense, his education was “useless” in terms of the current mania for a career and vocational education. But, it was useful in that it freed him from some of the biases that came with each discipline, and that with enough lead time, he could “master the rudiments of any new field, and what I would know then would be more up-to-date. “This is why I shall be eternally grateful that I wasn’t confined by a more specialized or vocational curriculum. Instead, we got a synoptic view of the world at large, and an organic sense of the life of learning.”

Re:Thinking Education: A Student Perspective

March 18th, 2013 by Dan Mathewson

by Kaci Brasher (’13) & Nicholas Lowe (’13)

“If a young person has any idealism at all,” said Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corp, “it’s strongest about the time he finishes college.” We have often been called idealistic, often by well-meaning people. We are told to find careers that are successful, although no one really tells us what that means. People warn us that following our hearts is all well and good, but be prepared for disappointment. Now, as seniors, we are at the crossroads, making decisions about which road we should walk, no wiser than we were as a freshman. And time has run out. We have to turn, one way or another. We have to choose idealism and our hearts or pragmatic realism. But in truth, we choose our path a long time ago when we chose Wofford.

We, Kaci and Nicholas, have been increasingly involved in the Re:Thinking Education initiative; attending events, hanging up posters, spreading the word. The events have challenged us, inspired us, changed us in ways we never expected to be changed. Yet, what we learned was not just new ways of approaching and engaging with the liberal arts, but also ways of recognizing the value of the education we have already experienced.

I, Kaci, have studied both psychology and Spanish at Wofford: equipping myself with tools in both the sciences and the humanities. Additionally, Wofford’s emphasis on service learning has allowed me to polish critical community building skills and apply the issues I learn about in class. For instance, in my Spanish 303 class, we built relationships with the local Arcadia community by interacting with the children and their families there on a weekly basis. Wofford’s emphasis on international programs has shaped my education in immeasurable ways as well. The support I received from Wofford allowed me to dive into another culture for a semester and thus discover my own culture. For the first time, I engaged deeply with people dramatically different from me on a daily basis. Therefore, studying in Chile was not only an opportunity to increase my Spanish abilities, but also to understand how to think and live beyond my own upbringing. It was, in many ways, one of the best applications of my liberal education, allowing me to grow in ways that I never could have anticipated.

As a double major in religion and math, I, Nicholas, like Kaci, have always had broad interests. I have dug up ancient pottery in Israel and studied C.S. Lewis at Oxford, I have led religious groups and have learned to play the organ, and in classes I have engaged with religions strange and familiar one day and in the next, learned how to prove the fundamentals of calculus. Joining with groups like Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity, I have done work throughout the community from ringing bells with Salvation Army to camping out with the Boy Scouts of America. Wofford has always been, for me, a place of potential, a place where the only limiting factor is my own desire to learn and engage.

Both of us have engaged with our education and the opportunities presented to us in a variety of different ways. However, one opportunity we both shared was a seminar on Civic Engagement. This seminar was a valuable way of integrating the knowledge we gained in classes with our desire to change the world. We collaborated with community leaders in the north side of Spartanburg on various projects designed to apply our theoretical discussions of service in a practical way. Dean Wood once told us “Do well so you can do good.” Wofford has set us up to do well and this class showed us how to do good. We already have the fire of idealism in our hearts: it is the prerogative of the college student in some ways. What we want, and what this class, and many other classes, gave us was the way to put our idealism in practice.

Ultimately, this kind of engagement is what Re: Thinking education strives to cultivate. Wofford wants, as Dr. Goldey wrote in one of the Re: Thinking Education posts, “to move our students from the self-centeredness of adolescence toward a deeper understanding and empathetic commitment to others, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religious worldview, or socioeconomic status (e.g., students are motivated to learn so they can address civic and even global problems).” Re: Thinking education aims to recognize in our education a holistic understanding of human nature, and give us the ability to discuss, with precision, this nature, and finally to provide the tools necessary to do something in the world.

And that seems to us to be the heart of idealism: the idea that change needs to happen and we can be the people to make that change. And such idealism seems to be not only the realm, but the prerogative of the college student. But as we step closer to what some college students call the real world, we worry. If college is the peak of our idealism, then what, we ask ourselves, will happen next? We don’t want to forget these dreams and visions that have carved out our path. But looking around at the professors involved in Re: Thinking Education, these grown men and women spouting off idealistic sentiments, and those heroes of ours out in the world like Mother Teresa or Dr. King, we get the sense that idealism never really leaves us. Instead, it seems to integrate with our very being, turning into a reality that we, ourselves, create. And so we want to make sure that this, our character, our honor, our idealism, is something good, something worthwhile. Whatever we do, we do not want to give in to complacency or wait. Because one day our idealism will be our reality, and we will be the one to Re: Think the world anew.

Reflections on David Warren’s Talk and Life after Wofford

October 28th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Emily Ann Eisenstadt (’13)

When I heard that Wofford was launching a yearlong conversation about the liberal arts college, I was thrilled. I’m a senior interested in pursuing a career in working in Higher Education-Student Affairs, and there obviously is not a major that leads directly to that. My parents and I joke that I’m majoring in extra-curriculars (I’m really majoring in English and Sociology), so I like to think of the Re:Thinking Education initiative as a supplemental part of my education. So how wonderful that Wofford wanted to gift me with such great speakers on the topic as I’m trying to decide which direction I want to head in with my life. One of these speakers was Dr. David Warren on October 15.

Dr. Warren is an incredible man with a life story that seems so outrageous it has to be true. It was great to hear the different ways that he came to work in higher education and how all his experiences influenced his thinking about the profession. I was especially interested in hearing him talk about his time as the President of Ohio Wesleyan when he lived in dorms like the students. Two summers ago I was lucky enough to be the summer intern to the President of Preston College at the University of South Carolina. He and his family also lived among the students, so I was able to see first hand the benefits that Dr. Warren was talking about.

I think for anyone, especially a senior trying to figure out post-graduate plans, this was an excellent speech to hear. At first, I felt guilty that I am just hoping one of the graduate programs I’m applying to will accept me, while at my age, Dr. Warren was hoping he would be able to attend Gandhi’s ashram in India. But I think the point of his whole talk was that you never really know where life is going to take you, so just be open to new experiences along the way, wherever they might be. It was amazing to hear how the pieces of his life fit together to provide him with all the opportunities he has had, and while I’m not expecting to create the next model city of Connecticut, it did give me hope that if grad school doesn’t work out this year, there will be another piece to my puzzle that I may have not even thought of yet – something that could lead me to do incredible things.

My roommates who attended the talk with me said you could tell how enthralled I was, and I immediately left Leonard Auditorium feeling so inspired that I was able to sit down and write my personal statement for my grad school application that I had been stuck on for weeks. Thinking back on the points I was nodding in agreement with during the lecture, especially about the benefits of residential liberal arts colleges, helped me to articulate what I was looking to get out of my graduate school experience. I will think back on Dr. Warren’s words and continue to be inspired in the years to come.

Bursting the Wofford Bubble: Blogging about David Warren’s Talk

October 19th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Nick Lowe (’13)

“The liberal arts are under attack,” said Dr. David Warren. That’s a pretty strong statement to start a talk about the liberal arts. And although Dr. Warren didn’t explicitly refer to an “attack” again, it gave his talk a sense of urgency. His talk was excellent of course, engaging, funny, and fascinating. He talked of growing up in a small town that existed only because it housed the families of the scientists who were working on the atomic bomb. It was a town that was an idyllic utopia: everyone had housing, food, education, and unbroken families. And he left there and went to a liberal arts college, and finally, in the spirit of Jack Kerouac, he hitchhiked across America. His story was amazing and the full speech can be found (soon) on the Re:Thinking Education website. But the heart of his story was not about the liberal arts in the abstract, but a more utilitarian vision. He had worked in Africa and in New Haven, building connections and relationships and all the while he searched for a sense of how lives were made and improved and lived. He talked of Life Chances, those circumstances of birth and education, and how those Chances gave us Life Choices, the ability and knowledge to choose to do great things and to change the world. He argued that the liberal arts were about enabling us to make those Life Choices.

Moreover, the liberal arts empower us to empower others. I was impressed by his work with connecting a large, prestigious university like Yale, which some might call elitist, with the town in which it resided, a town that had its fair share of poverty and destitution. I was immediately reminded of Wofford: right across North Church Street is a neighborhood that some consider the most dangerous in Spartanburg. Perhaps there is some truth to that statement. Regardless, however, the liberal arts should teach us compassion rather than apathy. The liberal arts should teach us to break the “Wofford Bubble,” as many students call it. Dr. Warren’s talk illustrated just how the liberal arts can help us build bridges instead of walls, and maybe burst the bubble.

The liberal arts are about developing the skill of critical thinking, but also about putting that skill into use, solving problems and changing the world. Twice Dr. Warren repeated a definition of the liberal arts that I found particularly poignant: the liberal arts answer the questions, “What do I believe and why do I believe it, where do I stand and why do I stand there, and what will I do with that knowledge?” With that statement, I was once again struck with a sense of urgency: the liberal arts should empower us to believe that we can change the world, but also that we should change. And that change starts with our immediate surroundings, and in places like the neighborhoods and schools around Wofford. Many students, through organizations like Math Academy and Twin Towers are already starting this change, and the liberal arts should enable all of us to engage with the world around us.

Dr. Warren’s talk was about a large number of issues. Where should the liberal arts go in the future? What is the relationship between the liberal arts and technology? Are the liberal arts still relevant today? Yet, what stuck with me the most after the talk was a sense of gratitude. The liberal arts gave Dr. Warren the abilities and skills necessary to succeed and to engage with his community and the world, and as a first generation college student, I was inspired by a hope that I can do the same. I am immensely grateful to Wofford for the education and opportunities I have been given, and Dr. Warren’s talk only reiterated the debt I owe to this community that has empowered me beyond what I could have conceived.

Blogging Dr. Barbas Rhoden’s Presentation

October 15th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Kaci Brasher (’13)

As a student of both the humanities and sciences at Wofford, I have taken a wide breadth of classes. However, each class is only a piece of the puzzle. I was intrigued when heard about the Re:Thinking Education initiative because I think these conversations and issues are exactly the type that a liberal arts education prepares students to tackle. After all, these projects spur conversations that require people to consider all they have studied and look beyond simply their own expertise or interest to the greater theme of education and learning.

I was interested in attending the faculty talks because I wanted to hear the perspective of the faculty on the same issues my friends and I discuss, including the status of liberal arts education and what our education means to the future and us. Dr. Barbas Rhoden’s session was the first I attended, and I realized pretty quickly it would be different from what I expected. This “talk” would actually be a moderated group brainstorming and participation session.

I was a little uncertain and intimidated at first because I am not the type to speak out about an issue when I do not feel I am as qualified as those around me are. Also, there was only one other student there with me. However, the professors made me feel very at ease and comfortable with commenting. Our discussion was fluid, thought provoking, and really quite fun. For instance, the first question asked for similes comparing the two discourses. We had to fill in the blank for “Academic discourse is like_______” and “Corporate discourse is like_______”. My group determined that academic discourse is like stinky cheese because it is an acquired taste and corporate discourse is like Febreze because it is usually covering something up with fancy words.

However, several years down the road, it will not be those similes about discourse that I remember, but rather witnessing liberal arts education in action. As I mentioned, I truly believe a liberal arts education trains us for these moments. Just as our fellow students and friends study in different departments, the professors at my table were from a variety of disciplines. They each brought their own perspective and knowledge base to the conversation, but also learned and listened to others. It really was a beautiful thing to watch and experience.

Flip. Cartwheel. Dance.

October 8th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Laura Barbas Rhoden
Associate Professor of Foreign Languages
Coordinator of Spanish

“We’re going to flip the classroom!” my colleague declared. The face of her collaborating high school teacher shone with enthusiasm, and the student fellow seated opposite them nodded agreement. I leaned forward to hear details amid the celebratory din of the kickoff dinner for the Arthur Vining Davis High Impact Fellows project. Teams comprised of a teacher, student, and Wofford faculty member sat packed in the Goodall Environmental Studies Center over good food and great conversation, and their energy expanded to the walls, soared to the ceiling, and poured through open doors into the vineyard below.

AVD High Impact Fellows sign a banner featuring the high school logos of participating teachers. (Photo by Mark Olencki at the Goodall Center, Sept 18, 2012)

There are landscapes in higher education in which classrooms flip and colleges do cartwheels, to borrow Duke professor Cathy Davidson’s phrase. Flipped classrooms create room for students to collaborate in projects-based assignments and analytical work during class time because that space has been cleared of data delivery. I love ideas that create spaces for others to thrive … Look, listen, imagine the architecture, design the space, and then watch what amazing awesomeness happens as you fade from it. Or in my case at the AVD dinner, hover at the edges of awesomeness and celebrate students turning cartwheels. How did it happen?

We sized up the terrain: community challenges, like the need for countywide college readiness, highlighted by the 30/40 Challenge, and teachers eager to grow, yet faced with disappearing professional development funds …

We took a measure of our strength: close student-faculty collaborations, powered by the passion of faculty mentors and the drive of students to learn …

And we took off running, the wind at our backs in the form of a generous foundation grant for our project.

Presto! Flip. Cartwheel. Dance. You’ve got not just a project, but a campus doing cartwheels with education. Sixteen Wofford students this year are taking their training in classrooms, their time in labs and libraries, their initiative in contributing to our community, and they’re flipping their college experience to meet a real-world challenge. A summit in April will feature their curricular innovations. The dinner in September let them plan, laugh, and pick grapes with their mentors … in a space built by others so that they could thrive.

So, here it is again: Match strengths to challenges. Leverage. Flip. Celebrate … the power of a liberal arts college, powering others.

This Three-legged Stool: Where does a biologist sit?

September 28th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Ellen S. Goldey
William R. Kenan Professor and Chair of Biology

Wofford’s biology department was awarded the 2012 Exemplary Program Award from the Association for General and Liberal Studies. This past week John Moeller and I traveled to Portland, Oregon to accept the award on behalf of our colleagues.

In a short acceptance speech, I shared my vision of General and Liberal Studies, and how our new first year curriculum fortifies Wofford’s General Education program. I told them about the metaphor of the three-legged stool I use with prospective students and their parents, a metaphor that my poet friend and colleague John Lane shared with me. The legs of the stool are the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences, and the seat of the stool is the integration of these habits of mind. From such a seat comes the ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of each area, not only to secure a job, but more importantly to develop the wisdom to resolve complex civic problems and to find purpose and meaning in life. Thus the stool must be sturdy, with its legs well balanced.

I told the audience in Portland how much I love teaching first year students. In that first year, the students are scared. They are expecting to be challenged (even though they hope it won’t happen) and they want their professors to care about them and to ensure their success. Our true role as professors, however, is to give them opportunities – and to motivate the students to grab them. We must require them to work harder than they thought possible, because with their hard work will come self-confidence, maturity, and personal satisfaction.

I shared with the audience that my husband is an archeologist and scholar of Religion, and he has often pointed out that those whose lives are filled with meaning and purpose can endure great suffering – Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen Hawking come to mind – whereas those who acquire great wealth and power, but find their lives devoid of purpose, often struggle to face the next day. I concluded by noting that what brings us together at this conference is that we all find meaning and purpose in this work that we do with undergraduate students.

Over the next few days several members of the audience thanked me because my comments had resonated with their view of liberal education.

Wofford’s mission is to “prepares its students for extraordinary and positive contributions to society… to [foster] excellence in character, performance, leadership, service to others and life-long learning.” We understand that an excellent liberal education builds cognitive abilities that include moral reasoning skills, so as to move our students from the self-centeredness of adolescence (e.g., students seek a college degree so that they can earn more money) toward a deeper understanding and empathetic commitment to others, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religious worldview, or socioeconomic status (e.g., students are motivated to learn so they can address civic and even global problems).

The AGLS award celebrates our institution’s commitment to the pursuit and achievement of excellence. Our new Biology program – now in its fourth year – was developed through a respectful collaboration that is the norm at Wofford but all too rare across the Academy. Our work resulted from a partnership among faculty members and students with the support and trust we needed from our administration and Trustees. We were given room to take risks, and we persevered through several years filled with extra work, anxiety, and a few disappointments. In the end, we achieved real and positive transformation to our program.

Moreover, we took on this task not because our program was in jeopardy: Biology is the largest major in the College; we serve over half of all incoming students; and our majors make up over 20% of each graduating class. Our students are even accepted into professional and graduate programs at rates envied by institutions across the country.

Instead, we took on the difficult task because we recognized that we needed to make best use of what is now known about how students learn and what science competencies our graduates will need in the coming decades. And like our colleagues across the College, we won’t stop now. At Wofford there is no static endpoint where excellence is defined. It will always be a goal to pursue, with untarnished honor.

Tobias Wolff’s Speech at the Novel Experience Convocation: Becoming an Authentic Self

September 25th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Jenna Kessler (’13)

I went into the Novel Experience Convocation with one main thought in mind – I hope the speaker, Tobias Wolff, doesn’t spoil the plot of his book. My Contemporary Fiction class is reading Old School, but we only just started so I’m not even halfway through. To be honest, I’m never quite sure what to expect from convocation speeches. There is usually a general topic, but what really makes them interesting is seeing how the speaker will tie everything together in the end. One of the main points of Wolff’s talk was his focus on developing an authentic identity, something that the main character in Old School struggles with, and a process that college freshmen will themselves begin to experience.

Wolff related his own boarding school experience to that of the main character’s experience in Old School. He said that his own experience in school changed his life because of what he called “the deep immersion into the lives of others.” His love of literature was cultivated at this boarding school, and he felt that in their classes he “couldn’t give an easy answer without being pressed.” This is something that affected him greatly, and it’s something that I think characterizes a liberal arts school as well. At Wofford, you can’t just get away with a simple “yes” or “no” in reply to a question; a simple answer does not suffice in classroom discussion. The professors aren’t afraid to let there be a little bit of silence after a question, giving students enough time to mull over the subject and to formulate a well-thought-out reply.

The climax of Wolff’s speech was when he asked whether we start off with an essential self and then find it later on, or if we create that self along the way. What a relevant question for college freshmen, I thought. They are beginning a time away from home, a place where they must learn to adapt. Wolff mentioned that though we have a capacity to change, tensions arise as we adapt to our new environments. “Are we being false to ourselves?” he asks. In the end, he believes that we do in fact create our identities. “It’s choice by choice, day by day; it’s the self you are becoming,” he tells us.

Sitting in the audience as a senior at Wofford, I found myself agreeing with him. I had a new appreciation for the Novel Experience Convocation, and it was my last one at that. I realized that in my time here, I have made choices that have shaped my identity, whether I was aware of them at the time or not. You go into college not knowing exactly what to expect, and you may find out certain things about yourself that you didn’t realize before; but overall you make choices that invent new parts of yourself. It may not be that you start out with a specific self, but that you add onto this self, and it eventually evolves into the person you will be. You become that person who will eventually stand in line for graduation, getting ready to adapt to the next phase of your life. A liberal arts education caters to the creation of one’s self; it gives you plenty of options, challenges your way of thinking, and helps you to connect different areas of knowledge in order to see the bigger picture. And connection really does tie us together: just as Wolff linked the different parts of his speech to create a whole, so do we create and connect different parts of our learning to create a whole self.

Curiosity

August 6th, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Natalie Grinnell
Professor of English
Author of the Funnier Than Grading blog

For me, education is exciting because it is unpredictable. A clear plan of study, a well-designed curriculum, even a simple lesson is shaken and transformed when engaged by human minds in action, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. Ancient knowledge becomes new again and again as new minds grapple with it in different contexts, and looking back while looking forward creates and sustains the story of human civilization. I don’t know what we’re going to discover this year as Wofford examines the history, purpose and future of the liberal arts education; I suspect that some of what we read and discuss will consist of problems and ideas that would be familiar to teachers and students in Ancient Athens, medieval Oxford or nineteenth-century South Carolina, while others would be alien and surprising even a generation ago.

As I write this, a device weighing nearly a ton hurtling toward the planet Mars at 13,000 miles per hour has slowed and dropped, landing on a spot in the solar system that no human hand has ever touched. Its journey was meticulously planned and designed, but its accomplishments are still unknown, its discoveries awaiting analysis. It’s called Curiosity, and it will add to the totality of human knowledge. Reactions to that knowledge, like reactions to reading a sonnet or balancing an equation, will help us understand what it means to be human. That is the journey of every educated mind, and this year I look forward to exploring some of the many paths that journey can take.

What Language do you speak?

August 3rd, 2012 by Dan Mathewson

by Ryan Johnson
Assistant Professor of Accounting

At the heart of the liberal arts institution is a love for languages. Many of us have studied French, Spanish, or German; others Chinese, Portuguese, or perhaps even Gullah — if you find yourself in the Low Country. These are examples of languages through which we speak to one another. However, considered more closely, it is clear that we converse in many more languages. Consider the word “sustainability.” To the environmentalist, this word clearly means undertaking efforts to do no harm to the natural world, or engaging in only those enterprises that positively impact the ecosystem. To the corporate executive, this word means that an enterprise has to be viable, or that it must be able to create value in order to survive. On its face, the word “sustainability” clearly has two different meanings. However, when we create an opportunity for both the environmentalist and the executive to converse, to share their different languages, we have a chance to create new meaning- the kind of meaning that can change the world. Perhaps the conversation results in the development of a renewable source of energy that is both environmentally sound and economically feasible. Or, perhaps it results in large corporations making better business decisions, taking into account the impact of their actions on the town in which they are located, rather than just the corporate shareholders. Regardless, one thing is clear: the collective conversation is better than the sum of its parts.

The power of the liberal arts college is that it is a place where we not only speak, we converse. In a world where the rate of the collective conversation is frantic, and the diversity of its participants dizzying, it is critical that we resist the urge to share ideas only with those who look and think like us. There is real power in cross-disciplinary thinking. Consider the concept of “diversity.” The sociologist knows well that diversity is an advantage; it opens our eyes to the fact that there is rarely one single “truth.” Rather, we are a product of our individual experiences, and harnessing that collective experience is an advantage to any organization. However, the investor also understands diversity well, but through the lens of the portfolio. The investor recognizes that diversity helps hedge against financial uncertainties or risks in different areas of the market. The beauty of the shared conversation is that the sociologist and the investor discover that they are both right, and that the resulting synergy created is a powerful and inclusive force.

The liberal arts college embodies the ideal of an honest, cross-disciplinary conversation. This is particularly important at a time when many Americans are dissatisfied with corporate and political leaders. We prepare our students to make good decisions, to function across borders and organizational charts, and to see change as an empowering rather than paralyzing force. These abilities are timeless, and transcend industry trends and analyst’s reports.

As we continue the yearlong process of Re:Thinking Education, we should remember the words of philosopher and educator John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; it is life itself.” It is clear that we are on the cusp of a very important and exciting year here at Wofford, in which we continue to learn and reflect upon our own values. I look forward to the conversation. And to hearing it spoken in many different languages.