‘The Core of Civilization’: Inauguration Panel Reflects on the Liberal Arts
September 19, 2013
Hosted by President Phil Hanlon ’77, the discussion was the first in two days of events celebrating Hanlon’s inauguration as the 18th Dartmouth president in the Wheelock Succession...In addition to Gordon-Reed, the panelists were Stephon Alexander, a theoretical physicist and the Ernest Everett Just 1907 Professor; Associate Professor of History Leslie Butler, whose work centers on 19th-century American cultural and intellectual history; Donald Pease, the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities and President Hanlon’s former English professor; and Joseph Helble, dean of Thayer School of Engineering and a professor who works on issues of the environmental impacts of fossil energy.
Michael Mastanduno, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the panel’s moderator, tossed unscripted questions at the panelists that challenged the ideals of a liberal arts education. In Helble’s case, he jokingly asked why a dean of a professional school should even be on the panel.
Helble said that the liberal arts create the context for engineering problems, and that the curriculum helps future engineers understand how to ask broader questions and develop critical thinking.
He went on to argue that the discipline of engineering must inform the liberal arts as our world and technology become inseparable. Technology is integral to every aspect of modern life, he said, and an understanding of the “built environment” would be “hugely enriching, regardless of discipline.”