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From the Dean

No Easy Recipes for Turbulent Times

Story by
Robert Stacey, Dean

For my family, January is always a turbulent month, filled with occasions —  birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths — that produce alternating emotions of joy and loss.  But the turbulence this month extends far beyond my own family.

Robert Stacey, Dean of the UW College of Arts & Sciences

The inauguration of a new American president on January 20, followed by the largest set of coordinated protest marches in a single day in the history of the world, has emphasized the extent to which our national divisions of race, class, gender, economic opportunity, and political outlook have ramifications around the globe.  Locally, the new legislative session in Olympia will be one of the most consequential in many years, as lawmakers wrestle with the challenges of amply funding K-12 education without undermining the many other vital responsibilities of state government.  And on our own campus, we watched in horror as a gunshot turned a peaceful demonstration into a violent confrontation that left a man fighting for his life in the hospital.

There are no easy recipes for living in turbulent times. Nor should those of us in higher education pretend that we can provide such recipes. For us to do otherwise simply encourages critics to believe that a university’s purpose is either to indoctrinate students into partisan modes of thinking, or to train its students to take up careers that they believe our society needs. Efforts to reform education toward these ends rest on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of education at every level, from kindergarten to graduate school. The root meaning of the Latin “educere” is to draw or lead students outward, from the smaller, more limited world of individual experience into a larger, more expansive world that embraces the collective knowledge our species has developed across millennia. It is, in short, a process of growth and discovery. It is not a set of prescriptions for how to live or what to think. If we forget this, we will do so at our peril.

There are no easy recipes for living in turbulent times. Nor should those of us in higher education pretend that we can provide such recipes.  

At times like these, we must remind ourselves of the values that guide us in the College of Arts and Sciences, and rededicate ourselves to embodying those values as we work to lead our students toward a broad and deep understanding of the world they will inherit. This issue of Perspectives features five College of Arts and Sciences alumni who are living out the breadth of vision, the depth of cross-cultural understanding, the multi-disciplinary creativity, and the commitment to public service that an Arts and Sciences education seeks to encourage in our students. Several of them received scholarship support from Arts and Sciences donors, which they note was tremendously helpful. I hope these stories will inspire you as they inspire me, as we continue to do what we have always done in the College of Arts and Sciences: educate our students for a future that none of us can foresee.