"That is what we do, educate leaders who think critically and know how to get things done—who use fact, to overcome fear and who lead with empathy and understand the value of peace and love."

By Sean Kay

March 26, 2020
In response to the Soviet Union launching the satellite Sputnik into orbit in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appealed to a nation fearful of its survival under nuclear attack. Advancing the National Security Education Act in 1958 (which eventually facilitated developments like the internet, large public universities, engineering and language programs, etc.), Eisenhower told the nation: “What will be needed is not just engineers and scientists … (but) a people who will keep their heads, and in every field, leaders who can meet intricate human problems with wisdom and courage. In short, we will need not only Einsteins and Steinmetzes, but Washingtons and Emersons.”

America and the world now face a crisis of Coronavirus pandemic. One of the greatest aspects of this crisis is that experts and engaged citizens have long understood global pandemic to be a major threat. This very scenario is one that I first came to understand while working at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., back in 1997 and have long included in my courses on international relations and foreign policy at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Experts have been ringing the alarm bell on this very kind of crisis over decades, and over the last few months, with urgency. This is the critical value that a liberal arts education brings to strategic thinking about global and national security—the ability to listen, learn—think outside the box, get a plan—and lead.

The humanities, arts, dance, theater, poetry, and music, as Eisenhower implied, are equally vital parts of common security. Future leaders will need context, history, good public speaking and writing skills; they will need to be leaders who can advance critical thinking, and stay cool, in times of crisis.

What has helped me personally with the transition has been my current students. We as faculty have all offered maximum flexibility in gearing up. But we are rolling now online, and my students are eager and excited to engage on these challenging issues. To ease the process, I have drawn on my own inner liberal arts by introducing the “Professor Sean Dance Show,” in which I do a really horrible (at least some might say) but apparently hilarious dance to a song of choice. This I can do with some confidence, I guess, from having played a gig or two of music, too…

Ohio Wesleyan University has long had in place incredible faculty and programs that have been engaging America’s leaders for the future. That is what we do, educate leaders who think critically and know how to get things done—who use fact, to overcome fear and who lead with empathy and understand the value of peace and love.

I think that that is a model that President Eisenhower would be very proud of indeed. And I can say with confidence, this will pass, and we shall move on to a new era in which we begin to tackle these challenges long before they arrive.

Sean Kay is Director of International Studies and Robson Professor of Politics and Government. He is the author of multiple books, including Global Security in the Twenty-first Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace.