The pandemic has taught us many lessons. And, like any good teacher, the pandemic will, even after it is gone, continue to provide instruction to us for years to come – in ways we couldn’t foresee.
COVID-19 is a milestone moment in our civilization. It is a time of great reckoning, a time of great reaction and a time of great resetting.
As you might expect, I saw much and I learned much this past year. I think any community leader, business owner, large and small, or corporate executive right now could write volume after volume about successes and failures brought about by the pandemic. For the pandemic showed the cracks in our façade, especially as it relates to equity, but it also revealed strengths in our character and greater culture.
For me, I have found the pandemic to be a powerful reminder of the value and relevance of the liberal arts – the core of who we are at the College of Charleston.
I would hope for our students, our alumni and our community of scholars that they saw the pandemic through many different lenses and grasped the sheer complexity of the situation – when epidemiology meets politics … meets commerce … meets anthropology … meets communication … and so on into every academic discipline. I hope we, as members of the greater College of Charleston community, were able to understand that simple, one-size-fits-all solutions were as elusive as a vaccine appointment this past winter.
For the liberal arts purists, they may point to the trivium and quadrivium – the seven disciplines that comprise the classical conception of the liberal arts: grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music. And they may take issue with my broader concept of liberal arts training and disciplines in the modern age.
However, I think we can all agree that “liberal arts,” whatever our definition, has benefited humanity greatly throughout the ages by shaping and preparing well-rounded, responsible citizens who have the necessary breadth of knowledge to contribute to society in so many different ways. Not because one or two particular subjects are the wellspring of wisdom, but, rather, the combination of many different disciplines helps to frame a person’s mind to be open and to be curious.
In my own life, I have found that the liberal arts are about revealing the different sides of knowledge, adding dimension, color, nuance and context to the world around us. And that the act of discovery, we see time and time again, is best achieved by having this wide range of knowledge and overall greater understanding. Simply put, I think being trained in the liberal arts tradition makes for better problem-solvers, better thinkers and perhaps even better humans.
As an institution more than 250 years old, the College of Charleston carries on the Renaissance and Enlightenment traditions of incorporating studies of history, philosophy, sciences, languages and culture into its base teaching and curriculum. And I am proud to say that as we, the College of Charleston, implement our 10-year strategic plan called Tradition and Transformation, a key part of our vision is to redefine the liberal arts for the 21st century and the future.
By redefining the liberal arts, I mean how do we, as a university, evolve the trivium and quadrivium to include disciplines around digital literacy, technology, sustainability, artificial intelligence and biotechnology (and the ethics surrounding AI and biotechnology), psychology, cultural awareness and inclusion, among other relevant, real-world topics?
While the news headlines may relate much negativity – whether it’s the pandemic, social justice issues, climate change or divisive political rhetoric – this is a pivotal time in humanity as we are seeing our knowledge base increase so rapidly – across all subject matter.
And being in a university, especially one like the College of Charleston, where the liberal arts are central to our core, our faculty, staff and students have the opportunity, even if only in a small way, to help nurture that exponential growth.
For serious lifelong learners like our students and alumni, this is a really good time to be alive. And, from my perspective, this is a time when a College of Charleston education is more important than ever.