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Conference explores future of higher education

April 11, 2014

  • Grinnell President Raynard Kington, Lewis & Clark President Barry Glassner, and Lewis & Clark trustee Scott Dubchansky.

What will college look like in 2025? Dozens of college presidents and other higher education leaders from around the country descended on Lewis & Clark on April 10 for a candid exploration of that big question.

Hosted by Lewis & Clark President Barry Glassner, the daylong conference probed issues including the future of technology in college and university education, higher ed economics, the public voice of higher education, and the future of the humanities. The presidents of Bennington, Denison, Grinnell, Northwestern, Pomona, Vassar, Trinity University, and numerous other colleges and universities attended, several serving on panels. Also participating were student-life and academic deans as well as several top editors and association heads.

“The range and prominence of the leaders who took part, combined with the incredibly well-informed, insightful, and candid conversations, made this a unique and extremely useful event,” President Glassner said. “It’s another example of Lewis & Clark gaining ever more prominence as a convener of some of the most important conversations happening in our society today.”

The evening keynote event, titled Humanities 2025, explored how the humanities can attract more public respect and student interest. Panelist Rebecca Copenhaver, professor of philosophy at Lewis & Clark, contended that the solution lay not in instrumentalizing the humanities or defending their existence to doubters, but in confidently honoring their inherent value.

Copenhaver called on her colleagues to celebrate and take pride in the valuable work the humanities do now and to make that a catalyst for a future in which the humanities thrive. “Stop talking about the idea of the humanities,” she urged. “Let’s talk about the thing itself.”

Joining Copenhaver on the panel were Gary Saul Morson, Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern, and moderator Carol Christ, president emeritus of Smith College. Christ praised Glassner and his co-organizer, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, for a day of “stimulating and provocative discussions.”

That sentiment was echoed by Grinnell President Raynard Kington. “Today’s conversations have been very interesting,” Kington said during a break. “I do believe we have to ask hard questions about the future. That said, I am confident that most of our institutions are going to do fine.”

As the conference wound down, Schapiro declared the event a big success for the setting as well as the content. The day’s brilliant sunny weather, he noted, made Lewis & Clark’s beautiful campus and mountain vistas a delight for the distinguished visitors.

“Lewis & Clark is a serious place with serious students,” Schapiro said, “and a perfect setting for a serious conference.”