Harpur’s interim dean makes open presentation
March 18, 2013Tweet
The Harpur College of Arts and Sciences motto — “From breadth through depth to perspective” — can help all of Binghamton University surmount challenges and cultivate opportunities as it grows, said Wayne E. Jones Jr., the fourth candidate for dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.
Jones, a professor of chemistry, has been the interim dean of Harpur College since June 2012. He addressed about 65 people on March 18; the topic for all candidates is the challenges and opportunities facing colleges of arts and sciences in highly selective public research universities in the next decade.
Jones began his career at Binghamton 20 years ago. “I chose Binghamton because we care about teaching, and we care equally as much about research and scholarship,” he said.
Harpur’s motto talks about building a foundation, having a deep understanding of a discipline and gaining the perspective to see where you can go. And while everyone in the room probably buys into that, he said, there are a lot of outside pressures to stray from that mission.
“Every challenge that we face is actually an opportunity in disguise,” Jones said. “We need to think about what do we have that addresses the challenge and where can we go with that.”
For example, parents and students in the 1950s saw college as a chance to obtain knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge let you become something more; it wasn’t primarily about getting a job.
Today, the expectation is that education is successful only if it culminates in a good job.
“We have to push back,” Jones said. “It’s an opportunity to educate our students, to tell our students we want them to be successful in life, not just in their first job.”
We want them to have the foundation of critical thinking and analytical skills that come from a liberal arts and sciences degree, he said. The CDC and alumni can help with jobs.
Another challenge is confusion within government about the value of a liberal arts education, he said.
“If you look up liberal arts and sciences for the New York Department of Education, it says, ‘Liberal arts will not prepare you for a career. It is designed to give you breadth for societal benefit,’” Jones said. “Yet, New York’s governor led a conversation with the National Governors Organization in March 2011 in which they said the liberal arts and sciences is not about breadth, it’s about helping students get a job, and they’re not doing a good enough job, and they should be held accountable.”
That disconnect is an opportunity to educate local, state and federal leaders that their next economy is not about freshmen being employed in four years, it’s about fostering innovation that leads to the next big idea. That can only come from teaching students how to think outside the box and experience learning outside their discipline, he said.
Jones said it is important for faculty to set an example for students by being engaged in the University community through interdisciplinary scholarship and programs. If students are encouraged to take courses outside their discipline, then faculty need to make connections beyond their own departments.
The University also has an obligation to not only provide the distance education that students demand, but to ensure that students “learn how to learn” in an online environment. Investing in training for teachers will also increase the value of distance learning, he said.
The final challenge that Jones addressed is what it means to live in a global world. “If there is any group in the center of advancing what a global citizen should look like, it ought to be the liberal arts and sciences.” While Binghamton has a number of international initiatives, he wants to see more study abroad and more in-depth collaborations and exchanges in select programs. “Focusing on faculty and scholarship with another partner will broaden the global experience,” he said.
What are the liberal arts and sciences really about? Jones asked. “It’s about gaining the breadth of perspective that will let you have a successful career, a successful life and to learn throughout your life.
“It’s not a linear process, it’s a continuous circle, where we go into something at great depth, we step back, we get a feeling for breadth, we understand the perspective and we start over,” he said. “If we can find ways to grow that in Harpur College, we can take the liberal arts and sciences at Binghamton to the next level.”