For Universities, A Major 21st Century Role

Excerpt: Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz on the purpose of a liberal arts education. (2 min., 30 sec.)
Excerpt: Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz on the purpose of a liberal arts education. (2 min., 30 sec.)

MUMBAI, February 10, 2010 - Globalization is a buzzword today, but it's hardly a new phenomenon. What has changed, Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz told listeners here, is the speed at which globalization is now taking place. The issues that have arisen as a result of globalization are global in nature—such as pollution, climate change, water shortage, human rights abuses, and terrorism—and only global solutions will be adequate to deal with them.

Reinharz made these remarks in an evening lecture co-organized by Asia Society India Centre, Brandeis University, and St. Xavier's College Mumbai, in which he laid special emphasis on the role institutions of higher education must play in addressing the problems of a truly global age.

Reinharz outlined four ways in which higher education can play an essential role in tackling global issues: providing accessible education, promoting interdisciplinary research, inspiring "big and bold ideas," and motivating the younger generation.

When it comes to issues of worldwide concern like endemic poverty and climate change, Reinharz argued, the efforts of an educated elite are important, but not enough. Rather, universities must bear the responsibility of seeking out talented individuals in communities across the globe. Government intervention alone is also insufficient—the response to these issues must be driven by an engaged citizenry. For that reason, Reinharz continued, education simply has to be easily available and affordable for all. An educated body of citizens is one which can be mobilized to find solutions. For example, increased access to education has been the single most important factor in ensuring the equality of women. Access to education in these situations becomes both a means to an end, and an end in itself.

The Brandeis President also stressed the importance of the classic liberal arts education. In this model, students learn not only the content of a particular subject, but how to process and create "big, bold ideas." The goal of a liberal arts education is not to train experts in one field, but to train a new generation to think critically and comprehend connections between disciplines. Reinharz cited the examples of two Brandeis alumni—Arjun Apadurai, a world cultural anthropologist, specializing in globalization theory and Thomas Frieidman, columnist for the New York Times—who use their liberal arts skills to draw connections between a huge range of international phenomena and critically examine the effects of globalization in the modern world.

This kind of interdisciplinary critical thinking, Reinharz continued, must be encouraged and fostered in the younger generation. He went on to propose the creation of a global research fund, similar to the Peace Corps, that would help achieve this end. He stressed the importance, above all, of maintaining an international dialogue between universities that transcends the vicissitudes of politics and divisive public opinion.

Reported by Madeline Gressel, Asia Society India Centre