In Perspective


During the presidential election season, personalities often overshadow issues. But issues remain—political and educational, scientific and cultural, social and religious—and will remain long after election day. With that in mind, the Davidson Journal asked a sampling of faculty and staff to share their bird’s eye view of current headline threads, platform planks and policy perspectives.

Ink blot and two people in a tug-of-war.Deliberative Citizenship

Political shouting matches of the people, by the people and for the people are not serving democracy.

by Daniel Layman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

The American political landscape today is fractious and polarized terrain. Americans are increasingly retreating into ideologically homogenous communities, both in terms of the locales they call home and the media they consume. And as the current election cycle grinds on, one question hangs heavy in the air: What is wrong with this country?

In one sense, we know what is wrong: Citizens see themselves as members of ideological tribes who owe nothing but contempt to the other side. The others, we say, are bigots or weaklings, depending on our tribal affiliation. And it goes without saying that there is no sense in reasoning with bigots or weaklings. But why is this state of affairs objectionable? After all, not everyone can share a single worldview. So why should we wring our hands about our bellicose politics instead of jumping into the fray?

Most people, I think, believe that the answer must have something to do with democracy. But what? It’s not as though we are less able to vote on account of hating one another. One possible answer is gridlock. When there’s no common ground, it’s hard for government to pass laws. Gridlock is bad, to be sure, but it can’t be the whole problem. Imagine that a highly intelligent and efficient junta staged a successful coup d’etat in Washington. Although we might appreciate some of the results, we would nonetheless object. For the American ideal calls not just for efficient government with good outcomes, but also for government that is ultimately attributable to us, the citizens.

The most basic problem we face, I believe, is a breakdown of the deliberative dimension of democracy. Deliberation matters because it has the potential to secure our freedom by making us coauthors of the laws we live under. American government, Lincoln told us, should be government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In order to secure government by the people, we must share in a single process of suggesting, defending, and ultimately deciding on policies that will bind us all. But as long as we see one another as enemies to be defeated rather than as interlocutors to be convinced, there is little chance that we can share in such a process.

Think of democracy like writing a book together. If people want to coauthor a book that will be attributable to each of them, they can’t arrive at the writing table with chapters already written and then fight for space in the pages. Instead, coauthors must come to the writing process ready to convince and be convinced. To secure government by the people, we must learn to write as coauthors rather than combatants.

Daniel Layman’s current research focuses on the character of political liberty.

Ink blot and carImport, Export

In this new day of openness, Americans and Cubans stand to learn lessons on race from one another.

by Devyn Benson, Assistant Professor of Africana & Latin American Studies

As historical and contemporary problems with racism in the United States have stormed center stage once again, sparking national conversations, protests and highly publicized acts of dissent from recognized public figures, the first U.S. commercial flight in nearly 55 years landed in Cuba on Aug. 31, 2016.

To most U.S. citizens, this momentous occasion, which comes on the heels of Obama’s historic visit to the island in March of this year, may signal the continued thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations. However, to many Afro-Cubans, who make up nearly a third of the island’s population, the impending increase to an estimated 110 daily flights between the United States and Cuba is potentially the impetus for the “return of racism” to the island.

Racism isn’t new to Cuba. Since the end of the 19th-century wars of independence from Spain, Cubans have struggled to build a nation where the descendants of slaves and slave owners are unified. In 1959, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro launched a national integration campaign aimed at public schools, workplaces and recreational centers. Contradictions filled this campaign, however, as the new government worked to reconcile long-standing stereotypes about blackness as inferior and child-like with its new social-reform projects.

As Americans worry about “seeing Cuba before it changes” and dream of glimpsing 1950s classic cars driving down Havana’s streets, Cubans are debating economic reforms and negotiating how to handle the rising tourist boom. Afro-Cubans, who have been historically barred from the high-paying, front-of-house hotel jobs that often require someone to have “buena presencia” (a good or “light” appearance) carry the added stress of well-meaning tourists redacting national progress toward racial equality.

The legacies of progress, as well as the vestiges of widespread racism against Afro-Cubans, can be seen by any tourist visiting the island. On one hand, by the 1980s, Cubans of African descent had similar life expectancies, high school graduation rates and levels of professional careers as their white counterparts—something you don’t see in the United States or Brazil. On the other hand, the limited number of black and mulato tour guides, bed and breakfast owners, and upper level officials in today’s Cuba demonstrate the limits of revolutionary reforms to secure long-term positions for Afro-Cubans in the new economy.

And now, akin to other efforts across the Americas to improve the lives of people of African descent, Afro-Cubans are organizing natural hair competitions, creating art that celebrates Afro-Cuban religious practices, and forging alliances with other black activists throughout the hemisphere. In Cuba, as well as the in United States, the time to openly and publicly confront racism has never been riper than the present.

Devyn Spence Benson is author of Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution. Twitter: @bensondevyn

Farink blot and scales of justice-Reaching Consequences

U.S. Supreme Court vacancy could affect state election.

by Andrew O’Geen, MacArthur Assistant Professor of Political Science

On Aug. 31, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order denying a special request from the State of North Carolina. The state was asking the supreme court to block a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court had ruled that parts of a 2013 state election law were unconstitutional, and the state’s request would have allowed the law to remain in effect for the November elections.

The supreme court was divided on the issue. In fact, they were evenly split, 4-4, with the more conservative justices, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas, all indicating their desire to grant the state’s request. A fifth vote to block the circuit court’s ruling and leave the law intact for the November elections would likely have come from noted conservative jurist Antonin Scalia. However, since Scalia’s passing in February, the president and the senate have been unable to come together to name his replacement.

At issue were parts of a controversial election law in North Carolina—H.B. 589—which eliminates procedures like same-day voter registration, reduces early voting days and creates a requirement that voters produce a photo ID at the polls. Proponents of the bill argue that it increases the efficiency and integrity of elections. The circuit court ruled, however, that some parts of the law unconstitutionally disadvantage minority—mostly African-American—voters. The controversial law was one of the focal issues of the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh and considerable commentary across the nation.

In April 2016, a federal trial court upheld the law, but in July the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law was passed with the intent to discriminate based on race. The state then sought the injunction from the supreme court staying the decision of the circuit court until after the November elections. However, the 4-4 split at the supreme court meant that the Fourth Circuit’s ruling remained in effect.

This story is a reminder that distant and random events can often have far-reaching consequences. We don’t often connect the number of justices on the supreme court with election outcomes. Indeed, few people would have predicted in February that Justice Scalia’s death would shape policy and politics in North Carolina in November. However, the inability of the president and the senate to fill the vacant supreme court seat has had a direct and measureable impact on voting rights in the state. It remains to be seen whether the justice’s death and the subsequent inaction in Washington will impact the outcome of elections in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Andrew O’Geen’s current research is focused on the U.S. Supreme Court and includes work on the cooperative behavior of justices, the judicial review of a federal laws, and the dynamics of the court’s issue agenda. Twitter: @AndrewOGeen

ink blot with map of Brazil and South AmericaTenuous Page for Brazil

In the wake of Olympic Games and political drama, what will become of the Latin American giant? 

by Britta Crandall, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies

Political turmoil involving a president impeached on flimsy but legal grounds halfway through her second term. Escalating unemployment amidst the worst recession of the country’s history. The largest corruption scheme ever uncovered in a democracy involving billions of dollars and implicating hundreds of government officials. A barely pulled-off Summer Olympic Games, leaving in its wake a legacy of costly sports venues and unfulfilled promises for badly needed infrastructure. Public health challenges related to the Zika virus, drug-related violence and chronic income inequality…. The litany of challenges facing Brazil in 2016 was at once overwhelming and confusing.

Ousted-president Dilma Rousseff and her supporters declared the August impeachment a coup, reminiscent of Brazil’s military regime that held power for the two decades before 1985; her critics celebrated the legal removal of an unpopular president who had run the economy to the ground and was no longer able to govern.

To make sense of Brazil’s Shakespearean political drama these past years, one must begin by understanding the nation’s myriad inconsistencies. The Brazilian Senate ultimately impeached Rousseff for manipulating the federal budget to hide a growing fiscal deficit, not for any personal impropriety. However, the majority of Brazil’s Congress was itself facing corruption charges or was under investigation for serious crimes.

Brazilians had taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers beginning in 2013, fed up with the waste and corruption of government. They succeeded in catalyzing the end of 13 years of Workers’ Party (PT) rule, but what they got in return was a president who himself was accused of illegal enrichment—a president whose own, ahem, transparency minister and several other cabinet members were forced to resign due to connections to official corruption schemes. It is clear, then, that sixty-one senators voted to remove an ineffective yet uncorrupt president from power partly in an attempt to deflect attention and public outrage away from their own misdoings—kind of like the story of the boy on trial for murdering his parents who pleads with the judge for leniency because he’s an orphan.

The negative news emanating from Brazil, however, is rooted in a much more uplifting reality. Rather than sweeping a potentially damaging corruption scandal under the rug, Rousseff aggressively pursued official corruption and ended up paying the highest political price. Brazil’s neighbors should take note of the way Brazil’s public prosecutors are doing their jobs.

Rousseff’s presidential successor, the ideological conservative Michel Temer, has already shifted economic policy to the right, aggressively pursuing long overdue pension reform and promising necessary cuts in fiscal spending. However, the most important challenge to the Temer administration is not economic. Rather, it is to continue the eradication of official impunity that Rousseff began. President Temer and the Brazilian Congress have every incentive to impede further investigations, and the country as a whole is desperate to put these painful and embarrassing months behind them. But the only way for Brazil to sustainably move beyond this period is to continue the messy work of rooting out entrenched official corruption. Some things are easier said than done; but for Brazil, the country’s fate depends on it.

Britta Crandall is the author of Hemispheric Giants: The Misunderstood History of U.S.-Brazilian Relations.

ink blot and marijuana leafWeed on the Ballot

Populist initiatives are occurring despite state, local silences on marijuana and its continuing federal Schedule I status.

by Mark Smith, Professor of Psychology

This election day, voters in at least nine states will have the opportunity to weigh in on the legalization of marijuana. At the time of this writing, the necessary signatures have been gathered in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada to allow citizens to vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Meanwhile, signatures have been gathered in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota to allow votes on the legalization of medical marijuana use.

Recent polls suggest the vote will be close in most states, but in other states, polls indicate clear support for legalization. Most significantly, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that 55 percent of likely voters in the nation’s most populous state (and the world’s eighth largest economy) support marijuana legalization.

These populist initiatives are occurring despite relative silence on the issue from state legislatures and many local politicians. Furthermore, these initiatives are arising even though the federal government recently declined to reschedule marijuana from its Schedule I status, meaning it still considers marijuana to be a drug with high abuse potential and no recognized medical benefit. Indeed, despite these state initiatives, you can still be arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, tried in a federal court, and sent to a federal prison for simple possession of marijuana, even if you live in a state where it’s “legal,” even if you purchased it in a state-licensed dispensary, and even if you have a note from a physician.

Luckily for the local marijuana user, the Obama administration has declined to prosecute either the consumers or suppliers of marijuana in states where citizens have voted for its legalization. This means, of course, that the enforcement and prosecution of federal marijuana laws is largely at the whim of who sits in the Oval Office, and this is subject to change as soon as the pictures of Michelle, Malia and Sasha are safely packed into moving boxes. Regardless of the outcome in November, it is unlikely federal policy will change dramatically.

Both candidates from the major parties appear to support the status quo. Hillary Clinton supports the legalization of medical marijuana, further research into marijuana’s health benefits and allowing states to control regulation of its recreational use. Donald Trump’s position is more ambiguous, but he has stated he supports legal access to medical marijuana and believes states should regulate its recreational use. The pro-marijuana crowd will likely be throwing their support for one of the candidates from the minor parties—both Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green Party) have come down unequivocally in favor of marijuana, with both candidates supporting nationwide legalization for both medical and recreational use by adults.

Mark Smith’s research focuses on the behavioral effects of opioids and cocaine, and is funded primarily through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

ink blot and storkParental Leave Policy

Evidence shows that parents, children and even businesses benefit from parental leave, so why does federal law only provide unpaid leave?

by Gayle Kaufman, Professor and Chair of Sociology

What do the United States and Papua New Guinea have in common?

They are the only two countries without some form of paid parental leave. This might make sense for a country that is largely based on subsistence agriculture, but does it really make sense for the world’s largest economy? You might not be surprised that Canada offers up to 52 weeks of paid maternity and parental leave, but did you know that our neighbor to the south, Mexico, offers up to 12 weeks of maternity leave at full pay?

The only federal parental leave policy we have is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a bill that was introduced in congress each year between 1984 and 1990, passed but vetoed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and 1992, and finally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Barely 60 percent of American employees are eligible for this leave once you take into account the requirements for minimum time in employment, work hours and company size.

You might be in better luck if you live in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island or New York (starting in 2018), states with paid parental leave, or if you work for a company such as Netflix, Etsy, Facebook or Google. But then consider that only 12 percent of American workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave.

These are the kinds of statistics that drove me to study parental leave, first in the United States and then in Sweden and the United Kingdom. In my research on American fathers, published in my book Superdads: How Fathers Balance Work and Family in the 21st Century, I found that most fathers were scraping together vacation days to take time around the birth of their child, while hourly employees simply had to take a day or two without pay if they wanted time off. This contrasts sharply with Sweden, a country that sets aside three months for each parent and offers a gender equality bonus for couples who split the remaining 10 months. It’s not quite perfect, but those pictures of fathers pushing strollers around town in the middle of the day are real.

There is plenty of evidence that shows that parents, children and even businesses benefit from parental leave. Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans support paid parental leave. Could it happen? Back in 2003, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which offers paid leave to all workers. What are we waiting for?

Gayle Kaufman’s research examines aspects of modern marriage, parenting and family, with a particular focus on fathers. Twitter: @gakaufman22

ink blot and brainIn the Genes

The latest genome editing technologies allow researchers to pinpoint possible ways to repair neurological trauma.

by Rachid El Bejjani, Assistant Professor of Biology

Neurological trauma and genome editing are recent news topics that generate strong, mixed feelings because they affect our collective future.

While public fear about the implications of current practices in sports and scientific research is justifiable, enthusiasm that data generated with the help of genome editing will provide a safer and more advanced future is, however, an equally valid positive attitude.
Several factors contribute to the nervous system response to injury, and our understanding of this process is far from complete. Academic and industrial laboratories around the world are currently engaged in deciphering the response of the nervous system to injury, in order to pave the way for research to develop medicine that promotes repair.

Davidson students are contributing to the global effort to fully understand how the nervous system responds to trauma. They do so by asking questions about the genetic response to nervous system injury in a harmless invertebrate, the soil dwelling worm C. elegans. This microscopic worm was introduced to the global scientific community as an experimental model for the study of genetics and neuroscience in the 1960s. Since then, several researchers working with C. elegans discovered a remarkable number of general genetic mechanisms that apply to other animals, including humans.

Our students focus on studying how genes regulate the ability of worm neurons to regenerate after a microscopic laser surgery that severs neurons. This approach allows students to ask novel, detailed questions about specific genetic mechanisms that improve or decrease repair.

The answers they find are, in theory, applicable to other animals because the sequences of genes they study are highly similar in multiple species. Some of our more advanced experiments require modifying the genetic makeup of the worm, otherwise known as making a worm GMO.

While these approaches are extremely powerful ways to answer detailed questions in genetics, they can sometimes lead to confounding effects due to a lack of specificity. To generate data that are more likely to represent what really happens in the organism, we have begun utilizing genome editing technologies. Genome editing allows extremely specific modifications of any gene. These recently introduced methods have revolutionized genetics.

With the help of these new technologies and that of a tiny worm that has been useful for over a half a century, our students take ownership of their work and ask new questions that may help us identify ways to improve repair in response to neurological trauma.

Rachid El Bejjani uses C. elegans soil nematode genetics for mutant analysis, transgenic approaches, laser surgery in living worms and genome editing.

Head Games

Are advertised “brain games” a new tonic for aging noggins or old-school snake oil?

by Kristi S. Multhaup, Professor of Psychology

Odds are that you have encountered ads for products like Lumosity, which claim to be based on neuroscience and enhance cognition. In October 2014 the Stanford Center on Longevity published a letter about computer “brain training” with 75 signatories, including luminaries in the study of cognitive aging. The summary said:

We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline.

In January 2016, the company behind Lumosity paid a $2 million settlement when the Federal Trade Commission ruled that their ads were deceptive. So are the ads the technology equivalent of snake oil?

In short, we don’t know yet. The cognitive aging experts who signed the Stanford Center on Longevity letter stated that:

To be fully credible, an empirical test of the usefulness of brain games needs to address the following questions. (a) Does the improvement encompass a broad array of tasks that constitute a particular ability, or does it just reflect the acquisition of specific skills? (b) Do the gains persist for a reasonable amount of time? (c) Are the positive changes noticed in real life indices of cognitive health? (d) What role do motivation and expectations play in bringing about improvements in cognition when they are observed?

With colleagues at UNC Charlotte, we are finishing a National Institutes of Health-funded study that fulfills such requirements. Participants played games roughly 45 minutes per day, 4-5 days per week for 8-10 weeks. They also completed three standardized assessments. Since 2012, the team has trained 19 undergraduates and two graduate students to administer standardized assessments, 35 undergraduates to score them and three recent graduates as full-time research assistants who helped manage the project.

Currently the team is finishing data scoring and analysis; the results will be a credible set of evidence regarding the effectiveness of brain training.

In the meantime, if you enjoy playing the games, forge ahead! If you hate playing such games, find something else you enjoy doing and engage in that. Currently, the best advice about maintaining cognitive health is to maintain physical health, with advice and approval from one’s physician, of course.

Kristi Multhaup’s research interest is in cognitive aging, particularly the mechanisms that are responsible for memory changes. Twitter: @KristiMulthaup

ink blot and religious symbolsReligion Matters

Religion is being reshaped in everyday life, and the younger we are, the more readily we accept the changes.

by Gerardo Marti, Associate Professor of Sociology

Religion still matters in 2016 America, yet the changes are unexpected and continually surprising.

Over the past few years, many of us have become accustomed to streams of reports on the falling rates of church attendance, the lack of young adult participation in established denominations, and the radical expansion of “nones,” or those who indicate no religious affiliation at all. Nevertheless, the relevance of religion remains.

For example, this year’s presidential election continues to bring faith front and center. Many prominent evangelicals and prosperity preachers support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Hillary Clinton’s longtime commitment to Methodism and her deep connections to the black church hover in the background. Muslims are widely stigmatized and misunderstood, with current calls for government registration and an outright ban on immigration.

Aside from national politics, Hollywood’s mainstream media machine is producing even more explicitly religious movies for popular audiences. Television shows further experiment with religiously themed characters and even whole series. A look at the contemporary Christian music scene reveals the embrace of hip-hop styles and new forms of electronic rhythms, changing the devotional music we hear not only on the airwaves but in the liturgical services of our churches.

Religion is also being reshaped in our everyday life. Social scientific research is looking at the ways spirituality is even more highly privatized by being interwoven into our feelings of sacredness in having dinner with our families, walking our pets and daily commutes in our car.

Marriages across religious affiliations are not necessarily increasing, but our tolerance of such arrangements certainly is. The greater proximity of pluralism means that despite continued patterns of social segregation, we see more diversity of faiths around us and experience more diversity as a result. And the younger we are, the more readily we find and accept such experiences as “normal.”

We may not yet discern a clear pattern of all these new and persistent trends taking us into the coming decades. Rather, the ongoing deconstructing and reconstructing dynamics of faith, devotion and spirituality reminds us that religion is ever vibrant and changing.

Religion may not always be recognizable, but it is always with us. Nostalgia is a poor servant of observation. Rather than look back and wonder where familiar things have gone, let us exercise our curiosity and constructively discover—even reimagine—the structures and practices of religion being unveiled for our always fascinating future.

Yes, religion still matters in 2016.

Gerardo Marti is author or coauthor of multiple works, including most recently The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity and Latino Protestants in America. Twitter: @praxishabitus

Religious Literacy for Today’s World

Religious literacy is critical for today’s students to become more effective global servant leaders in 2016.

by Rob Spach ’84, College Chaplain, and Elizabeth Welliver ’16, Chaplain’s Office Fellow

On a residence hall floor where one student wears a hijab, another leads a Bible study, a third serves as a cantor at her home synagogue, and yet another celebrates International Darwin Day, students’ encounters across lines of religion and worldview are an everyday campus reality. The range of spiritual and secular perspectives has grown over the years and deeply enriches our community. This diversity, though, presents both opportunities and challenges, since discourse across religious difference is not familiar to or comfortable for many students, faculty, and staff.

These challenges are also present in the world beyond college campuses. When a supervisor refuses to allow an Orthodox Jewish employee to leave the office early on Fridays, or a soccer coach leads a diverse team in the Lord’s Prayer, religious and secular identities are misunderstood or disrespected. Moreover, we daily see images of religious extremism across the world and uncivil discourse about the religious or secular “other” in our own nation.

As Davidson reimagines the liberal arts for the 21st century, it is essential that we nurture religiously literate leaders who can navigate interfaith contexts thoughtfully, productively, and courageously.

Our campus is a fitting laboratory to foster the knowledge, character and skills needed to engage pluralism in public contexts. From their first day of orientation, we encourage students to reflect on how religious literacy and interfaith learning can make them more effective servant leaders. Through programs such as the Chaplain’s Office Interfaith Dinner Club, a student-led Interfaith Fall Break trip, and campus festivals such as Diwali, Eid al-Adha, and the Passover Seder, students experience first-hand the sacred through the eyes of their peers.

The conversation on religious diversity is spreading across departments. Last year, a delegation including a trustee and senior administrators from Academic Affairs, Admission, Development and Student Life attended a national conference designed to equip Presbyterian church-related colleges like Davidson for interfaith leadership. This fall, Residence Life partnered with the Chaplain’s Office to train student staff to productively engage religious difference. Continuing on-going efforts, Dining Services sponsors 10 celebratory meals on religious holidays each year. In academic disciplines including Africana studies, anthropology, religion and political science, courses invite students to reflect on the diverse ways that religious and philosophical traditions shape our world.

Davidson is well-positioned to expand efforts to prepare students to lead in a world where religious difference shapes global events as well as small, daily interactions between neighbors. As we foster humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds, religious literacy and interfaith awareness are essential to the fabric of our educational mission. It is, in the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “sacred work” to reclaim the heart of our humanity.

Rob Spach ’84 became Davidson College Chaplain in 1993. Elizabeth Welliver ’16 majored in religion at Davidson and previously attended Pearson United World College in British Columbia.

ink blot with mortar boardInvestment of a Lifetime

There’s never been a more relevant time to declare the career value of a liberal arts education.

by Jeanne-Marie Ryan, Executive Director of the Center for Career Development

Never has a liberal arts education been so relevant, and yet its relevance has never been so vociferously called into question.

In a polarized political landscape, both sides have found common ground in asserting that economic success can only be achieved by those pursuing STEM disciplines or professional programs, rather than French Literature or Art History. Anxious parents are counseling their children to eschew the liberal arts because job prospects are seemingly better for those who choose these areas of study. Hysterical headlines announce that a liberal arts degree is a ticket to a life of perennial unhappiness and penury.

But, as any liberal arts graduate can tell you, research and analysis—those fundamental liberal arts skills—reveal a very different story.

Our students at Davidson recognize that the liberal arts are, in fact, critical to success in every economic sector and provide an essential foundation applicable to every professional field. Those who study English, political science, history—and yes, French literature—are hugely successful in business, government and technology. A thriving professional career today demands critical thinking, collaborative teamwork, innovative problem-solving, cultural literacy and sensitivity to demographic, economic and societal differences and political perspectives, and above all, clear communication. These are the skills specifically associated with a liberal arts education. Just ask the one-third of Fortune 500 CEOs with liberal arts degrees.

Even more: In today’s fast-changing global and technology-based landscape, the millennial generation will change jobs or careers nine times in their lifetime. Liberal arts majors are the most adaptable to these new circumstances. A liberal arts degree prepares students for the roles that have yet to be invented, not for one thing but for anything. Innovative solutions, creativity and entrepreneurship—these are the traits developed and honed for today’s world by a 21st century Davidson education.

What about earning potential? For a generation with mounting college debt, and anxious parents worried about how they’ll pay it off, what’s the return on investment for the liberal arts graduate? Graduates of professional programs and STEM majors do initially have slightly more earning power in their first job than those from liberal arts majors, but over their lifetime earnings, political science and history majors, for example, out-earn their counterparts who chose business management or accounting. Liberal arts graduates earn more than professional majors by their peak earnings age. Just ask Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, history major. And for those much-maligned art history or French literature majors? Try Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle, or A.G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor & Gamble.

In the end, earning power is just one measure of return on investment in a college degree. Liberal arts degrees aren’t just preparing students for their first job, but for a lifetime of career success.

Jeanne-Marie Ryan is in her first year at Davidson, building on her own global career, most recently with State Street International in Boston and in Europe. Twitter: @JeannemarieRyan


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