Liberal Education and Democracy: Philip A. Glotzbach [Founders Day address]

glotzbach_founders_dayPhilip A. Glotzbach, president of Skidmore College, provided the annual Founders Day address at Centre College on Jan. 21, 2015, in Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts. Glotzbach has been president of Skidmore, a leading liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., since 2003. During his tenure as president, Skidmore has been guided by the concept of “creative thought matters.” Glotzbach’s accomplishments include a new first-year curriculum and an ambitious strategic plan that emphasizes student academic engagement, intercultural literacy and responsible citizenship. He has written widely on the value of the liberal arts, academic leadership and governance, and the value of science literacy in the liberal arts, among other topics. As part of the Founders Day ceremony, Centre awarded Glotzbach the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Read more.
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[accordion_item caption=”Liberal Education and Democracy: Developing Citizen Intellectuals”]

Without support from suitably educated citizens, no democracy can remain stable.

– Martha Nussbaum


Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

– Winston Churchill

President Roush, Ms. Cornett, Professors Stroup, Johnson, and Lashley, Reverend Axtell, members of the Centre College faculty, staff, and administration, and most importantly, Centre students, please accept my most sincere and heartfelt thanks for your invitation to receive an honorary degree and to speak to you on the occasion of your annual Founders Day. Knowing the caliber of those who have preceded me on this stage, it is truly a humbling experience to stand with you today.
The fact that you convene this gathering each year speaks volumes about the culture of Centre College. It reaffirms the mission of your school as a community of teachers and learners, and it highlights the common goals of American liberal arts colleges taken together. Such expressions of purpose are enormously important today, when so many strident voices challenge the value of a liberal education, in general, and question, in particular, not only whether our small liberal arts colleges can continue to exist into the future but whether they, in fact, deserve to do so.
The national conversation about higher education has shifted profoundly in recent years. In the 1950s and 60s, it was all about investment and access. Among other things, we were worried about falling behind the Soviet Union in science and technology, and there was no question that it was in our national interest to build new teaching and research capacities and extend the opportunity of higher education to previously underrepresented and underserved populations. In the late 1960s and early 70s, our campuses became centers of protest around the Viet Nam War, civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights – calling for societal change and drawing criticism from some quarters for becoming overly politicized. Today, after several decades of governmental disinvestment in higher education and sharp increases in comprehensive fees, our discussions focus on the high cost of college and whether particular courses of study lead to high paying jobs.
There are, of course, many dimensions to the “value” of liberal education. Given the trauma of the Great Recession of 2008 and the continuing economic uncertainties the entire world still faces, it is understandable that our society has become increasingly focused on the economic burdens that families and students must bear to pursue a college degree and the subsequent “return” on that investment. Today every college and university president is expected to address these issues with multiple audiences. Your own President Roush is both a thoughtful and articulate proponent of liberal education. I suspect he would agree with me that making the economic case for schools such as Centre and Skidmore is actually one of the easier parts of our job. It is considerably more difficult, however, to broaden this discussion to include the many other values inherent in liberal education.
One reason for our society’s focus on the economic analysis is that we have come to think of higher education as primarily a private good – a personal investment that pays off when an individual student graduates and successfully enters the workforce.[1] The prevailing ethos in our consumption-oriented society, in which just about everything imaginable is for sale,[2] certainly encourages us to take a consumer-oriented approach to education. But even from an economic perspective, a college education manifestly represents not just a private good but also a public good. For example, as economists Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson point out, “people with a college education [add to] the flexibility, innovation and productivity of the work force,”[3] increasing prospects for prosperity and social advancement not just for themselves but also for the entire country. Without at all denying the importance of these economic considerations, I want to direct our attention to an even more significant dimension of the public good represented by higher education, one that has been notably absent from our national conversation in recent years: the role of liberal education in preparing our graduates to take their place as citizens in a democracy.
[accordion_item caption=”The Grand Experiment“]
Though the concept of democracy commands wide and often uncritical respect, we know that this form of government is not without its limitations. The difficulties currently being experienced by any number of nations around the world, especially though not entirely in the Middle East, where some autocratic regimes have been replaced by more democratic governments – sometimes short-lived or otherwise highly problematic ones – serve to remind us that democracy is inherently risky. Often enough, the outcomes of democratic processes do not satisfy even a majority of citizens who participate in them. (Hence a New Yorker cartoon that shows a king and one of his advisors standing on the parapets of the castle looking down on an angry mob. The advisor is saying, “If they don’t stop protesting, you can always threaten them with democracy.”) And although democratic governments can prove remarkably resilient in times of stress, the history of the 20th century provides ample evidence that a nation’s commitment to democracy can also be fragile, requiring constant attention and nurturing if it is to survive.
Today, both at home and abroad, democracies – and their fundamental requirement of freedom of thought and expression – face a host of external and internal threats. The external threats take the obvious form of contemporary fascistic political movements seeking to establish forms of government based on religious or political ideologies that are aggressively intolerant of contrary views or political opposition, which they repress through violence and intimidation. Such threats can be concentrated in specific locations that lack a robust civil society – for example, Iraq and Syria with the rise of ISIL – and they can be projected across international boundaries, as in the 9/11 attack on the United States or the recent terror assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in France. But as real and frightening as such external assaults upon democracy decidedly are, I believe they ultimately are more easily identified, opposed, and I hope defeated than their counterpart internal threats.
Internal threats to democracy arise from forces that undercut a government’s ability to do its basic work of providing the conditions required by its citizens they require for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” For our purposes, these threats can be summarized in single question: In nations with increasingly heterogeneous populations and the increasingly burdensome short-term demands placed on elected officials seeking to retain their offices, is it possible for contemporary democracies to deliberate rationally about the increasingly complex and large-scale issues we confront and act effectively to address them?
This question certainly pertains to contemporary industrialized democratic states worldwide, but let us focus on the United States as a case in point. In recent years, as this country has become marked by an increasingly divisive political life, polarized along hardening ideological lines, we have seen our legislators lose the ability to find common ground and achieve the compromises that are essential to the functioning of the American political system. Indeed, in certain sectors of our population and the legislators they elect, the very idea of political compromise has become anathema. Yet even as our political discourse has become more strident and impassioned, we have seen the continuation of a longstanding pattern of voter apathy – as reflected in voting turnouts that fall between 52% and 65% in presidential election years and a range of 39% and 49% for mid-term elections for the years 1948 to 2012.[4] The 2014 midterm election was even worse: only 36.4% of eligible voters went to the polls, representing the lowest election turnout in 70 years.[5] Moreover, many citizens who still exercise the franchise go into what might be described as “political hibernation” between elections, paying little or no attention to politics at all.
As serious as issues of voter apathy may be, I believe the current state of our political discourse (which some commentators have described as a political food-fight) represents an even greater problem. Democracies are fundamentally deliberative,[6] and the quality of the political decisions they make depends ultimately upon the quality of their deliberations. There are few times in the history of our republic when political arguments were high-minded and free of invective. American politics has always been a full-contact sport. But it is surely ironic that today, despite our immediate access to previously inconceivable amounts of information, our increased capacity to communicate with one another, and the undeniable advances we have made in our ability to understand the working of the natural and social worlds, our political discourse increasingly occurs in an ideology-rich but data-free space in which communication sometimes seems to cease altogether.
Unfortunately, the stakes surrounding today’s political decision-making could not be higher. For this is a moment when technological and industrial developments have given us collective responsibility, quite literally, for the future of our planet. More than 30 years ago, Jonathan Shell’s deeply disturbing book, The Fate of the Earth[7], described the horrors of the “nuclear winter” that would likely follow any widespread use of nuclear weapons. As long as nations retain stockpiles of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology continues to proliferate, this threat still remains. But today we face environmental threats such as air and water pollution and climate change that are even more compelling because the mechanisms driving us toward the precipice they represent are already in motion.
As President Obama noted in his 2015 State of the Union Address, the year 2014 was the warmest since global climate records were first kept in 1880, and the effects of that warming are being documented on every continent. A paper recently appearing in the journal Science argues that the earth has “already crossed four ‘planetary boundaries.’ They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.” If this trend continues, the authors contend, “the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a ‘safe operating space’ for human beings.”[9] In short, halting and then reversing the damage to our global ecosystem from global warming and other human-caused stresses is arguably the single most important political issue human beings have ever confronted.
Happily, there are examples of effective collective action in response to global ecological challenges that give some room for hope. When scientific research in the 1970s revealed that the industrial use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) was causing a depletion of the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer, international political leaders created the “Montreal Protocol” limiting the production of “Substances the Deplete Ozone Layer.” This agreement, which went into effect on January 1st, 1989, has been ratified by 197 nations and has produced measurable positive results.[10] The initial research on ozone depletion was strongly criticized by representatives of the CFC industry as “a science fiction tale … a load of rubbish … utter nonsense.” But additional findings – including dramatic visual representations of data from NASA satellites – eventually created sufficient political will to address the problem.[11] More recently, in December 2014, nearly 200 countries concluded an agreement limiting fossil fuel omissions to reduce global warming. Although this accord does not include specific reduction targets, it still represents an important step forward.
Even so, the larger question of whether our political system is capable of taking effective action to address the large-scale and long-term issues we now confront decidedly remains open.[12] In recent years, the level of our nation’s political discourse does not encourage optimism. So, unless it is simply utopian to imagine ways to create a context of rigorous public discussion that seriously engages the challenges we face in all their complexity, it is time to ask what we can do to help make our public decision-making smarter. If those of us in higher education do not take on this task, then who will? And the truth is that, in the end, the real work will fall primarily to you students. If you do not take up this work, who will? I want to talk about how we can help you do it and why we must do so.
[accordion_item caption=”Developing Informed, Responsible Citizens – A Modest Proposal“]
Small liberal arts colleges offer unparalleled opportunities to their students by giving them access to an astonishing concentration of intellectual and educational resources – far more than are available to the majority of college students in this country, let alone to the vast majority of people throughout the world. Fewer than 40% of Americans hold an undergraduate degree, and globally that figure is less than 10%. So the advantages enjoyed by those of us who teach and learn at the Centres and Skidmores of the world confer upon us all a level of privilege that, in turn, engenders a profound obligation to give back to the society that made those resources available. Or, to return to the language I used a moment ago, we all share a responsibility to maximize not just the personal good but also the social good represented in a liberal arts college education.
Skidmore’s “Mission Statement” recognizes this obligation as the commitment to “prepare liberally educated graduates … [who will] make the choices required of informed, responsible citizens” – an objective that speaks to the basic social requirements of democracy itself. Likewise, as everyone here today knows very well, your College’s “Statement of Purpose” asserts that a Centre education “enables students to choose and fulfill significant responsibilities in society.” Centre’s Q.E.P. document states that “a Centre education prepares students for lives of learning leadership, and service.” Similar promises are to be found across the landscape of American higher education, and they surely represent one of the most important expressions of the public good advanced by our colleges and universities. But what, exactly, do we mean by these commitments?
When those of us in colleges and universities talk about education for citizenship, we frequently turn our attention to community service, service-learning courses, and other forms volunteer involvement that connect students with the communities in which our institutions live. Clearly there is a role for such forms of direct civic engagement as part of a liberal education. They offer powerful experiences that help students appreciate the interconnectedness of our society and develop compassion for their fellow citizens who sometimes require assistance just to satisfy the most basic human needs. But it is equally important that we and our students not see the various forms of community service – as important as they are to civil society – as a substitute for attending to the political sphere, where our most pressing societal problems ultimately must be addressed.
So which educational outcomes are most salient for creating informed, responsible citizens who are willing and able to elevate their country’s collective social decision-making? One answer is to see those necessary attributes of citizenship as precisely the qualities of mind and character we find at the core of liberal education itself: critical thinking; a capacity to access the kinds of knowledge created by the different disciplines; awareness of the multiple social, cultural, and political perspectives we find in the world; cultivation of one’s narrative imagination so one can empathize with those in a situation one has never directly experienced; creativity; and the like.[13],[14] But rather than regarding education for citizenship simply as a kind of epiphenomenon that arises naturally out of a college’s curricular and co-curricular life, I propose that we consider a more intentional framework in which to situate this crucial project of developing informed, responsible citizens – one that more consistently emphasizes the relationship between the stated goals of liberal education and the requirements of democratic citizenship.
Here is one possible way to imagine this goal: In a memorial essay for the writer Susan Sontag, Joan Acocella praises Sontag’s service as a public intellectual, “a person with the right, even the duty, to put forth ideas, as a contribution to the society’s discussion of its life.”[15] Public intellectuals speak and write across the full sweep of topics represented in the humanities, arts, and sciences. But they play an especially important role in in the political sphere by focusing attention on the pressing questions of the day, with the expectation that others too will care about how we collectively think about those issues. What if we were to be intentional in expecting our graduates to develop an analogous relationship with ideas – to become, in effect, citizen intellectuals, who believe not only that ideas matter but also, and more personally, that their own ideas matter? Public intellectuals seek ways to project their ideas to wide audiences through print and other media. Citizen intellectuals accept “the right, even the duty” to project their ideas within the more circumscribed personal, professional, and civic circles of their individual lives – doing the everyday work of citizenship, taking their share of responsibility for our democracy’s collective actions. Above all, the citizen intellectuals I am imagining understand that politics matters.
If this idea of citizen intellectual makes any sense at all, let me augment it with three more specific suggestions, prompted by three questions about how we might amplify the values of a liberal education, for our students, in ways that speak to the specific difficulties afflicting our contemporary political life. These questions represent a combination of learning outcomes and intellectual dispositions that are already integral to liberal education. But I believe they can be brought into sharper focus, if we can just be more intentional in attending to them as we go about the business of teaching and learning.
[accordion_item caption=”Question One: How can we make our political discourse smarter by reflecting what we learn from physical, biological, and social science?“]
College general education programs already tend to include requirements relating to scientific literacy, and many courses across the liberal arts curriculum relate to this question in one way or another. (Centre, I believe, requires one physical science and one biological science.) As we consider what scientific literacy entails in the 21st century, I suggest that a primary justification for including such a requirement at all – by no means the only justification, but surely a very important one – is the need for informed, responsible citizens today to understand not only how the life, physical, mathematical, and social sciences work but also how the results of scientific investigation relate to issues of public policy. Connecting empirically oriented disciplines to political issues also emphasizes how frequently addressing those issues requires us to work across traditional disciplinary lines. For example, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa raises questions not only of medicine, epidemiology, and public health but also of sociology, religion, economics, psychology, and politics, to provide just a partial list. Liberally educated citizen intellectuals are well positioned to use their creative imaginations to make such connections.
How would our political life begin to change if citizen intellectuals routinely brought even a basic level of scientific understanding to bear in their conversations about current affairs with friends and neighbors? How would our political life change if citizen intellectuals consistently held political leaders accountable for making such connections themselves – insisting that our public policy decisions reflect the broad ramifications of such complex problems? How much would our political deliberations improve if politicians came to be embarrassed by a lack of scientific knowledge or a selective distrust in science instead of flaunting their ignorance as a badge of honor, as too often happens today?
[accordion_item caption=”Question Two: What would it take to change your mind?“]
There certainly are occasions in which the business at hand is to defend one’s position not to open it to question. Political debates represent the most obvious example here, and Centre College has ample experience with this form of political interaction. But there are also times when reasoned discussion and deliberation are called for, rather than debate – especially when the task is governing, as opposed to winning an election. Meaningful civil discourse and democratic deliberation require an attitude of receptiveness to the ideas of others that opens the possibility of ending up in a conceptual place different from where one started.
Such an attitude is best acquired through an appreciation of our inherent limitations as knowers. This awareness begins with the realization that we have been mistaken on numerous occasions – indeed, that whole societies and ages have held beliefs to be obviously true that we today regard not just as false but as pernicious. Embracing the fact that we human beings, both individually and collectively, are highly fallible knowers opens one to the possibility that on any given occasion someone else – a person, a different political group, a foreign religion or culture, even another era – might possess a better idea than oneself. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that acquiring such a sense of humility with regard to one’s own beliefs provides an antidote to “the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt.”[16] When it succeeds, liberal education guides students into that disquieting region and challenges them not to remain in doubt but rather to develop personal certainties that they can affirm without falling into dogmatism.[17] I believe we would strengthen our work of teaching and learning if we could foreground the concept of fallibilism in general, but it has an especially powerful application to the political realm.
In recent years, the American political scene has increasingly privileged the notion that changing one’s mind is somehow a sign of weakness or lack of integrity. True, politicians who cynically alter their beliefs simply to reflect the changing popularity of different positions deserve to be criticized. But it is a central tenet of liberal education that we all are ultimately responsible for the ideas we accept, and learning is impossible without change of belief. So it is entirely reasonable to expect each us to take responsibility for revising what we think, from time to time, and to hold one another accountable to this standard.
What would the political world look like if changing one’s mind on the basis of new facts or better arguments occasioned praise rather than contempt? What would that world look like if Sunday morning public affairs talk show moderators routinely confronted our elected political leaders with the following question: “What would it take to change your mind?” and then waited for an answer? Seriously entertaining this question requires one to own one’s beliefs by articulating reasons for holding them and indicating what changes in fact or argument would lead one to alter them. Indeed, the best way to ask that question in discussion is to say, “Here’s what would change my mind … . What would it take to change yours?” Can we teach our students to use this question routinely and encourage them to take it with them into the world – specifically, into their lives as citizen intellectuals? As a precondition, can we consistently model for them the kind of intellectual humility and creative orientation toward one’s own beliefs that builds on confidence in what one has learned but remains open to intellectual change and growth? Think of this as a “confident humility.” I believe we can and we must.
[accordion_item caption=”Question Three: How can we find common ground and work with people even when we disagree fundamentally with them?“]
The preceding comments about changing one’s mind presuppose a rational approach to belief formation.[18] And if there is no possibility for changing our own or others’ ideas through reasoned discourse, then we might as well admit that liberal education is a fool’s errand. But there is also a growing body of research among psychologists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, anthropologists and many others that shows how much of our rational thinking occurs against a background of deeply held beliefs, emotions, experiences and the like that realistically are not subject to alteration by argument. As Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,[19] even the process of replacing a large-scale scientific paradigm or world-view with another in some ways resembles a religious conversion rather than the outcome of a logical deduction. Moreover, our large-scale belief structures most often change slowly, if at all. For example, the Civil Rights legislation passed in the 1960s ended legal segregation and has done much to change the minds and hearts of white citizens. But, as events over this past year have made vividly evident, we continue to struggle with the lingering effects of over 400 years of racial history.[20]
So an important part of the project of liberal education must be to help students effectively navigate a world of differences in belief and worldview that simply are not going to go away in the short term. We talk a great deal about diversity in our colleges and universities, and there are many dimensions to this important conversation. At Skidmore, we locate some of these discussions under the headings of ‘Intercultural and Global Understanding’ and ‘Intercultural Literacy’.[21] No doubt you have your own language at Centre. But however we label them, these discussions represent attempts to transcend differences, to understand how we all create our personal and social identities, how we can make a college an inclusive place that welcomes all of our community members to partake in the shared conversations and projects that we consider important. We want even the most difficult conversations to occur in spaces that enable all participants to feel “safe.” But experiencing such a space as free from threats or assaults upon one’s identity is not the same as being comfortable. All of us need to learn how to have uncomfortable conversations, and we need to teach our students especially how to engage productively in difficult discussions – how to “stay in the room” – even when those conversations involve engage people who view the world quite differently.
Politically, our country is becoming polarized in a way that is giving rise to whole communities whose residents view the world through a single political, religious, or other conceptual lens. Paradoxically, the Internet with its dizzying array of sites has made it easier to select sources of information that simply reinforce one’s existing beliefs, making them less likely to change. How, in this context, can we best teach our students to appreciate the range of beliefs represented across our nation and the world and to deal constructively with those differences? How can we help them develop the intellectual resilience needed to deal with a society that protects rights to free speech but not the right never to be offended by the speech of others?
One answer is that we need to be closely attentive to the range of opinions and perspectives that are represented on our campuses. To make sure that our own public discourse on college campuses explores the broadest possible range of perspectives. This is not always easy or comfortable to accomplish. In a recent column, David Brooks commented that the

journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.
Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.[22]

Now it is important to say that in many cases it is appropriate for colleges and universities to adopt standards of behavior – and perhaps even standards of speech and civility – that differ from those that obtain in our society at large. But the Charlie Hebdo incident has added new energy to longstanding debates about the limits to free speech, and that question is settled neither in the world at large nor on our campuses. In this context, Brooks raises a question that deserves our serious attention. It is all too easy for those of us within the academy to be self-satisfied about our own willingness to consider divergent beliefs while falling short of this ideal in practice. Above all, when confronted with the choice, we far better support the mission of liberal education by erring on the side of protecting controversial speech than by silencing it.
My suggestion is that we do more within our academic communities to actively and directly engage the issue of freedom of speech itself and that we critically examine the range of ideas and perspectives represented on campus. We need to attend particularly to the project of helping our students become adept at talking with, understanding, and working effectively with those who look at the world differently from them. This project requires high levels of creativity; members of the faculty, staff, and administration, need to do all in our power to model such behavior and help our students learn practical ways of working with other people across deep divisions in belief. In the end, perhaps the most powerful way to accomplish this goal is to forge personal relationships – with friendship as the high bid – that bridge what initially appeared as insurmountable differences. Yet another argument for attracting the most diverse campus community possible.
[accordion_item caption=”The Purpose of Liberal Education“]
In these remarks, I have asked us to think about how we might be more intentional, and more creative, in preparing our graduates to function as informed, responsible members of a democratic society. I am not proposing the creation of new courses or general education requirements – though I do believe that it is imperative that we critically examine how we think about scientific literacy today. But I am mostly urging that we think about how we teach our existing courses and use our creativity to encourage our students to think of themselves as citizen intellectuals whose ideas matter to a society where our politics desperately need an infusion of new thinking. In so doing, I have called our attention to a fundamental purpose of liberal education – preparing informed, responsible and politically engaged citizens – that merits more attention than it often receives. Liberal arts colleges such as Centre and Skidmore collectively educate only a tiny proportion of the nation’s undergraduates. Nevertheless, alumni of small liberal arts colleges are represented disproportionately in the leadership ranks of business, the professions, and government. So we should not underestimate the potential influence our graduates – you students – can have in a world even though you are outnumbered.
In concluding, let me note that we should not regard either democratic citizenship or democracy itself, as important as they are, as ends in themself. That is to say, the line of thinking I have pursued today is incomplete, because it has not considered the deeper question of our overarching societal goals. So here is one final thought: Just over one hundred years ago, in 1913, the good citizens of Stockbridge, Massachusetts built a town school and inscribed the following words in its dedication stone:

This building has been erected that learning may abide among us for the preservation of justice and truth.

That marker remains visible today as a reminder of the higher civic purpose this country once ascribed routinely to public education and, I’m sure we will agree, to higher education as well.
Yes a college education most certainly represents a significant personal good for those fortunate enough to gain access to it. But if we truly are to prepare you students to function as informed, responsible, and politically engaged citizens of the 21st century, we need to recapture and own the idea that in teaching and learning we together inhabit a privileged and, indeed, a sacred space in which we reason together about the most important public goods that represent the ultimate goals of education – with justice and truth being high on that list. And we must constantly challenge one another to do what we can to see that justice and truth do indeed prevail within our democratic republic. A week that includes Centre College’s Founders Day, our national commemoration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and President Obama’s sixth State of the Union Address provides a fitting occasion to remind ourselves that liberal arts colleges find their ultimate justification when they both inspire and empower their graduates to help make a better world.
[accordion_item caption=”Endnotes”]
[1] When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California, he used this line of reasoning to question the need for state funding for the University of California system, asking why it should not be paid for by the students who, after all, would realize the principal benefits of their education.
[2] See What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012). This book was the common reading for Skidmore College’s fall 2014 entering class.
[3] See Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson, “Is Education a Public Good or a Private Good?” The Chronicle of Higher Education (18 January 2011); The authors explain that, from an economic perspective, “public” goods are defined by two characteristics:
1) Non-excludability: It is not possible to exclude non-payers from consuming the good.
2) Non-rivalry in consumption: Additional people consuming the good do not diminish the benefit to others.
“National defense and mosquito control are standard examples of public goods. The military cannot exclude from protection individuals who fail to pay their taxes. If the neighborhood is sprayed for mosquitoes, everyone in the area will benefit whether or not they have paid. Moreover, I am no less safe if you are also protected by our army and get no additional mosquito bites just because you are also free from the pests.” Baum and McPherson also point out that “not many goods are perfect public goods,” including higher education – because it fails the “non-excludability” test: people who cannot pay typically are excluded. On the other hand, society clearly benefits from the existence of colleges and universities, even though not everyone is able to enjoy the personal benefits of a college education.
[4] The Center for Voting and Democracy:|Voter Turnout/
[5] PBS Newshour:
[6] There is a growing literature on this topic. See, for example, Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, edited by James Bohman and William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997) and Why Deliberative Democracy?, by Amy Gutman and Dennis Thompson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
[7] Jonathan Shell, The Fate of the Earth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
[8] See “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics,” by Justin Gillis, The New York Times, 17 January 2015.
[9] Reported in The Washington Post, “Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earthy beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries,” by Joel Achenbach, 16 January 2015.
[10] See
[11] See
[12] Author Eric Liu recently has asked this question in another way: “Are we done with democracy?” Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C. 25 January 2014.
[13] See, for example, Martha Craven Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997) and Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
[14] There is also an argument to be made that education for citizenship at the college level should include at least a competency or course requirement or dealing with the structure of the American government or comparative government, since our secondary schools are inconsistent, at best, in providing this knowledge to their graduates.
[15] Joan Acocella, “Postscript: Susan Sontag,” The New Yorker, January 10, 2005, p. 28.
[16] Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 157.
[17] See Skidmore’s strategic plan, Engaged Liberal Learning: the Plan for Skidmore 2005-2015, p. 9.
[18] This section has benefitted considerably from comments by Professor Cathy Silber, for which I am most appreciative.
[19] The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962).
[20] See, for example, “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic (June 2014, pp. 54-71) or The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander (New York: The New Press, 2010).
[21] See, e.g., the Strategic Plan, pp. 19-23.
[22] David Brooks, “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo,” 8 January 2015, The New York Times.

By |2015-01-26T16:55:25-05:00January 26th, 2015|Economics|