In Times of Change, Eternal Values Endure
OWU looks to the future while remaining true to its roots
In his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman notes that we humans are essentially adaptable beings who until recently managed change rather well. Now, he suggests, the pace of change can be often greater than our ability to adapt, leaving us too often bewildered, anxious, and afraid.
Our healthiest response to this unprecedented pace of change is finding a way to balance an appreciation for that which is new with a fidelity to that which endures the test of time. This is the noble aim of liberal education; here we stand at the nexus between eternal values, and knowledge and structures never before imagined.
Last fall the Sagan National Colloquium engaged the campus in consideration of big data in our lives. We learned about the role of big data in retail, where the record of past behavior predicts our next purchases before we are consciously aware of our own interest. We learned about ways in which certain patterns of human activity tracked at the meta level discern outbreaks of disease before physicians or the Centers for Disease Control are aware. We explored ways in which the use of big data enhances the quality of human life, and we were reminded of the ways in which, if left untethered, big data robs us of our privacy and manipulates our behavior.
When the Ohio Wesleyan faculty began exploring new majors that connect a traditional liberal arts education with pre-professional preparation, data analytics quickly rose to the top of the list. But in the liberal arts context, a data analytics major comes with a twist. The Ohio Wesleyan major in data analytics, as designed, “both provides students with the skills necessary to work with big data and the ability to assess the impact of that work.” Each student is required to complete a course on the Social, Ethical, and Cultural Impact of Big Data. The structure of the data analytics major reflects Ohio Wesleyan’s founding commitment to liberal education and to an “education designed for the benefit of citizens in general” (see Data Driven story).
For 175 years, Ohio Wesleyan students have actively engaged with the community, developing habits of service they carry with them throughout their lives. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries through its Methodist connection, Ohio Wesleyan sent more alumni to establish schools and hospitals in the developing world than any other Methodist-related institution. More recently, our students have engaged in service learning integrated with courses in the curriculum, through spring break interfaith service trips, and in dozens of schools and organizations in central Ohio and far beyond. I am constantly inspired by the impact of our alumni through volunteer service in ways small and large, in the communities where they live, and in the far corners of the world.
In this issue of the magazine, you have the opportunity to read about our new data analytics major and the ways in which data informs our work on campus today. And you have the opportunity to read about the culture of service bred at OWU (see Community of Service story). In this issue we encounter a major that might have seemed inconceivable not so long ago, and we are reminded of the values of social impact and ethical leadership that trace to our founding and now inform this new major.
When the pace of change seems to outstrip our ability to adapt, it is good to pause to reflect on that which endures. In the pause, when our sight is good and our head is clear, we can identify and/or insert those enduring values in that which is new. In the process, we continue our aim to educate moral leaders for a global society. That, indeed, might be the ultimate outcome of a liberal arts education.
President, Ohio Wesleyan University