Scott Coltrane is Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences
When I first arrived on the UO campus last summer, it was just two months before the economy took a dramatic turn for the worse -- a downturn that roughly coincided with the beginning of fall term. In the intervening months, I have heard many concerns from faculty, staff and administrators regarding our future directions. What is the best way forward given the uncertainties of the current times? What are our most pressing priorities?
Crisis can often be an opportunity for soul-searching and reflection, and this has been no exception. But it's not just the current economic meltdown that has given us pause. Just as profound are the realities of the world at large in the first decade of the 21st century.
We are deep into an era of unprecedented change and transformation. As former Secretary of Education Richard Riley has said, "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented, in order to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet." Riley predicts that the top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 will be ones that did not exist in 2004.
So we must ask ourselves what this means for the type of education that the College of Arts and Sciences provides. Liberal arts education has often been contrasted with business or technical education as impractical versus practical. But out in the "real world," business leaders say they are looking for the exact attributes that liberal education provides.
Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes, Inc., points to the classic promise of a liberal arts education when he says that, "The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is ... the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination and our faith in the future."
Less directly and more practically, Intel CEO Craig Barrett indicates the necessity of liberal arts skills when he declares, "Our whole product line turns over every year. About 80 to 90 percent of the revenue we have in December of each year comes from products that weren't there in January."
How can a future Intel employee be prepared for this reality? And this phenomenon is not restricted to a single high-tech company or its future workers and leaders.
In the rapidly shifting job markets of the future, those most likely to succeed will be those who have learned how to learn, who have a strong multidisciplinary education and who have the skills and experience to adapt to changing conditions.
A recent study reported that nearly 75 percent of employers say they want higher education to place more emphasis on liberal arts fundamentals such as critical thinking, analytical reasoning, global issues and communications skills.
With the distinction between education for work and education for life becoming increasingly obsolete, the College of Arts and Sciences is poised to offer the best of both worlds. The new Academic Plan for the UO reaffirms the role of a liberal education and refocuses attention on one of our oldest and highest goals: helping the individual learn to question critically, think logically, communicate clearly, act creatively and live ethically.
If we can accomplish this goal we will have fulfilled our mission to prepare the next generation for the challenges we cannot yet imagine.