In praise of liberal arts: Author Cathy Davidson speaks at Drew

Author and educator Cathy N. Davidson


By Olivia Yepez

We live in a world dominated by technology and specialization. But don’t write off a liberal arts education just yet.

That’s the advice of author Cathy Davidson, the first speaker in this season’s Drew Forum lecture series at Drew University in Madison.

“Your life is going to take so many twists and turns,” Davidson, a professor at the City University of New York, told Drew students prior to Wednesday’s Forum appearance.

“The best thing about a liberal arts education is that you can meet [people] and do as many things as possible. … You might not have the content for the turn, but you have the muscles for the turn.”

Davidson has written more than 20 books, in addition to articles for the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post.  Collaborative ways of living and learning, and improving higher education are key areas of interest.

At Duke University, she became the country’s first Vice Provost of Interdisciplinary Studies. She co-founded a network of more than 13,000 scholars, artists, and technologists committed to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn.”

President Obama appointed Davidson to the National Council on the Humanities in 2011. A year later, she was named Educator of the Year by the World Technology Network.

A liberal arts education allows students to try things outside their comfort zones and gives them the opportunity to specialize in both STEM (Science Technlogy Engineering Math) and humanistic areas of study, Davidson said.

In her latest book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, she argues that the right use of technological innovations and open learning environments can prepare students for the questions academic classrooms never ask.

Davidson spoke with students from Drew’s teaching masters-, women and gender studies- and Baldwin Honors programs. She was introduced by Drew professor Wendy Kolmar.

“It was almost an accident I got into literature,” said Davidson, who earned masters and doctoral degrees in English at the State University of New York, Binghamton, and did postdoctoral study in linguistics and literary theory at the University of Chicago.

She had wanted to go into robotics, she said, and never even considered a career in literature because of her dyslexia and slow reading. But when her twist in the path came, Davidson credits her liberal arts education with giving her the confidence to proceed.

Over the course of the 45-minute session, Davidson talked about how humanitarian studies prepare students for the world outside of college, where answers aren’t always black and white. A liberal arts education forces students to think outside the box to tackle tough problems, she said.

Davidson cited Project Oxygen, a study by Google that found it was not intellectual ability, but attributes like communication, supportiveness and productivity that got people promoted in the company.

Upcoming events at the Drew Forum include a live taping of The NPR Politics Podcast: The Road to 2020 on Jan. 22, 2020, at 7:30 p.m., and a keynote by Gen. John Kelly, a Marine veteran and former White House Chief of Staff for President Trump, on Feb. 12, 2020 at 8 p.m. Admission to each event is $50. correspondent Olivia Yepez is a student at Drew University.

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