Vassar recently hosted a webinar titled “Innovation in Higher Education: Building Capacity for Inclusive Leadership” that featured conversations with people in the academic and business worlds whose backgrounds and experiences varied widely. But one common theme soon emerged: Transforming global society into a more equitable one will require today’s students to engage in a broad liberal arts education.
In the first segment, “Leadership in Higher Education,” hosted by President Elizabeth H. Bradley, panelist Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, reported that as the University of Edinburgh undergoes the first comprehensive review of its curriculum in 70 years, “We’re asking ourselves, ‘What should every Edinburgh graduate know something about?’ … We’re number one in Europe on data science by everybody’s reckoning and competitive with some of the best North American universities in that particular subject area. … But we want to bring some of those data skills to students who might be studying music or history or medicine, or something else.”
Parag Saxena, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay and co-founder of the investment firm Vedanta Capital, said excellent universities provide opportunities for students outside the classroom. “In most universities, there are all kinds of clubs that have things like music, drama, and poetry. You’ll see other things that fill this vacuum that people really need,” he said.
Abebe Bekele, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and Research Affaires and Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), said their curriculum is based on the belief that “tomorrow’s doctors need to be prepared to handle tomorrow’s problems,” and that COVID-19 has shown us that we need to go that way now in anticipation of what’s going to come soon.
In the second segment of the webinar, Bradley engaged in a conversation with Hamilton “Tony” James, former President and Chief Operating Officer of the Blackstone Group and currently Chairman of Jefferson River Capital. James, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, said that as an undergraduate interested in business, he believed that the best path to success would be to take as many quantitative courses as possible. But he said, “What I fell back on in my career that I found had a lot of utility were the other things I was forced to take because Harvard gave me a liberal arts degree.”
“Faculty and Student Reflections on the Liberal Arts,” the third segment of the webinar, was hosted by Vassar’s Deputy to the President, Wesley Dixon.
Panelist Dr. Denis Regnier, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences at UGHE, said those who developed the school’s curriculum recognize that while their students all want to become doctors, they have other interests as well that should be fostered. “What is important for them is to keep their intellectual curiosity,” he said.
Dr. Sabine Rolle, Dean of Education in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and a leader of the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said one of her goals in helping to revise the curriculum is to engage a wide range of the faculty in the discussion. “All of the colleagues who were involved in building up the Edinburgh Futures Institute were really, really keen ... to come together to talk to each other across those boundaries, across those silos of discipline,” she reported.
Dr. Anurag Mehra, a member of the faculty of the Chemical Engineering Department at IIT, who taught a course in data science at Vassar this spring, added that with so much misinformation speading, social awareness and empathy are especially important.
Michele Tugade ’95, Vassar Professor of Psychological Science on the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair, said her experience teaching at UGHE had given her “new tools and new, innovative pedagogical strategies.”
And Linda Kim ’23, a Vassar senior who studied last year at the University of Edinburgh, said, “When I went to Edinburgh … I [experienced classes] in really big lecture halls and I’d never had that at Vassar … But there’s a tutorial system at Edinburgh that helped me to get a feel of an education model that felt similar.”
At the webinar’s conclusion, Bradley noted that all four institutions are committed to thinking creatively about how higher education can help solve global problems. She plans to continue the conversation by convening an in-person conference with top leaders from each institution.
To view the webinar, visit go.vassar.edu/globalpanel.