The Colgate Scene
May 2006

A message from President Rebecca S. Chopp
Liberal arts in a global context

Jiao Nanfeng (right), director and professor of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute, describes a Chinese artifact to Robert Ho '56 (center), President Chopp, and her husband, Fred Thibodeau. The institute was just one stop on President Chopp's recent educational exchange visit to Asia. [Photo by Bob Tyburski]

In March, I had the honor of spending 10 days in Asia, through the generous invitation of Robert Ho '56. A supporter of Colgate in many ways, Mr. Ho wants to help Colgate prepare students and faculty to be knowledgeable about China and Hong Kong. During my trip, I discussed new partnerships and explored Chinese culture while being given the opportunity to speak at both Peking University and the University of Hong Kong, where I shared my thoughts about the liberal arts model of higher education and the challenges we face in today's global society.

To read President Chopp's blog from Asia, go to www.colgate.edu/blogs.

Your stories: President Chopp discusses topics of importance to the campus community in her columns. She'd like to hear your thoughts on how these issues might affect you as an alumnus or your children at Colgate: just send an e-mail to yourstories@mail.colgate.edu. To read her previous columns, go to www.colgate.edu/yourstories.

Liberal arts education as expressed in a residential college such as Colgate is unknown in China. It was very interesting to explain Colgate and the liberal arts to educators and students who have never experienced this very special type of education. University faculty, students, and administrators in China and Hong Kong are keenly interested in liberal arts education, and some universities there are working to make sure that undergraduate students experience some of the basic aspects of liberal arts. A number of alumni have asked me to share pertinent material from my speech, which forms the bulk of this column.


We are all excited about this 21st century. Like no other time in history, the world is open to scientific discovery, to the exchange of cultures and people, goods and services, and communication. In a world that is now small and easy to navigate, we must educate our students to think in new ways, to be citizens of the world as well as of their nations, to understand the philosophy and arts of other countries, to respect the politics and cultures of different people, and to be both critical and creative thinkers and doers.

We must all take seriously the role of education as the engine and protector of the future. Alfred North Whitehead, famous British and American philosopher, defined the task of higher education as "the creation of the future." Within China and the United States are many different voices in the conversation about education and the future. We have a common task.

Residential liberal arts colleges are the purest example of the ideal of undergraduate education in the West. Liberal education, from its earliest days, was about developing men and women to be both wise and good. The liberal arts focus attention on how to think and how to live: with others, in the world, and in the future. Intimate faculty-student interaction occurs in small classes, in programs outside classes that range from academic discussions to arts programs, civic service, and social experiences. A broad and critical training in a lively and diverse community is an essential component of a liberal arts education. It is an education that supports and challenges the student to build a better community, to be an intellectual risk taker, and to appreciate the variety of cultural and individual differences that contribute to the organic wholeness of any community.


Colgate takes a multidisciplinary approach to science education that emphasizes collaboration and research. While in Asia, President Chopp spoke to university audiences about the importance of developing robust teams of scientists for the 21st century. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Today, I see three challenges to education in general and to American residential liberal arts colleges in particular. First, science and technology. The rate of technological change doubles every decade according to some experts. We are now experiencing an acceleration of acceleration. If the rate of acceleration continues, the 21st century will experience technological change one thousand times more than that of the 20th century. Science is now multidisciplinary; the convergence of technologies expands the frontiers of discovery at the edges of what were once well-delineated disciplines. In this exciting century, with its phenomenal rate of change, transfer of information, and new horizons, all of us need to produce scientists who are thinkers and doers who can lead the way with entrepreneurial quality of mind, responsibility of values, and robust abilities to develop teams of international scientists.

The second challenge is globalization. Tom Friedman's bestselling book The World is Flat is opening America's eyes not only to the interconnections pulsating around the world, but also to the rapid transformation of our economic, communication, business, bureaucratic, and cultural structures. Globalization, the interweaving of markets, technology, and information and telecommunications systems into flexible, open networks, requires us to educate students about the world -- to be entrepreneurs and critical and creative thinkers who can build teams to address cross-cutting and global problems and opportunities.

The third challenge is to take advantage of the possibilities provided by immigration, migration, and glocalization. Friedman introduced the term "glocalization" to identify how easily a culture "absorbs foreign ideas and best practices and melds those with its own traditions." People are moving from rural areas to cities and across national boundaries. The 21st century will require holistic thinkers. We need communicators and community builders who can work across boundaries in both local and international contexts: not only intellectual and disciplinary, but also cultural, political, economic, and governmental.

Colgate is continuing its tradition by addressing the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. We will model an undergraduate education that specializes in educating entrepreneurs, innovative people who know how to lead organizations and teams, and holistic thinkers and doers who can live and lead in the 21st century. All of us in education must join together in this exciting frontier where science, globalization, and glocalization join.

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