This Is Your Brain on the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Coffee and Doughnuts with Rainbow Sprinkles

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The last Common Hour of the semester at 11:05 a.m. Tuesday featured doughnuts—the ambrosial yeasty kind, not the crumbly ol’ cakey kind—and plenty of piping hot, Davidson-friendly S&D Coffee in the Lilly Family Gallery of Chambers Building. With exams and Christmas just around the corner, ’tis  the season to micromanage blood sugar and serum caffeine levels around here. Miles to go before anybody sleeps, capiche? Why, in this very morning’s Crier e-newsletter, I saw announcements for no fewer than four (4) study breaks featuring cookies, ice cream, banana splits and, of course, coffee. It is a good time indeed to be working the Davidson beat, and could you please pass the insulin? [Note 1: R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio Ramirez points Daybook to neuroscientific research on glucose and memory. Note 2: This week, in addition to the sugar and caffeine food groups, SGA is offering fruit and juice and milk and bagels, a welcome tip of the hat to nutritional diversity. Kudos!)

Back to the Lilly Gallery on Tuesday: With her customary podium panache—or perhaps “dais dash” would be a better term, as she is loath to stay put behind a podium—President Carol Quillen packed the hour with an update and Q&A with students, faculty and staff on what she’s been doing and thinking since she started work here at Davidson Aug. 1. To wit, for five months she’s been asking lots of questions of the whole Davidson family and assimilating the answers into general directions of strategic thought. I didn’t have a notepad handy (hello: busy consuming ambrosial doughnuts and piping hot coffee here), so I listened carefully and mentally noted three main directions of strategic thought, employing monosyllabic mnemonic devices that my own liberal-artsy noggin could remember long enough to haul itself back to my desk and ponder upon.

Who?—Who do we want at the Davidson of the unfolding 21st century? Perhaps more precisely, who do we want to be Davidson? Leaving aside anyone’s specific formulation of an answer to such a kitchen-sink question, answering it at all indubitably means more diversity of every kind at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, USA, the World, the Solar System, the Galaxy, the Universe, 2012 CE. So: how do we and how will we support the growing cultural diversity of our student body? Of our faculty? Staff? How will we support increasing religious diversity? Ethnic? Socioeconomic? Academic?…

What?—And what is academic diversity if not the essence of the liberal arts? Has been since the start, 1837 for us. But just as the academic requirements of, say, mid-American Century Davidson College were not the same as those of its earliest days as a manual-labor school, so now and looking forward, the posture of our college must not remain static in this, its terquasquicentennial (175th) year. Indeed, almost by definition, a liberal-arts educational posture is among the most dynamic of all, and always evolving. A recent revision of distribution requirements at Davidson is but one example. How else might this college want and need to change academically or otherwise to meet the exponentially faster-paced wants and needs of the 21st century, while staying true to the worthy traditions of the liberal arts in general and the college’s Statement of Purpose in particular?

When?—”When” is my imperfect word-association cue for a fascinating and complex topic that Quillen turned to new light, for me anyway. When Davidson students look to their futures, and when they in fact enter that world, how might the college continue to support them in new and important ways in their hero quests, their grand alumni adventures, to bring the kind of good into the world that Davidson alumni always have brought and, it is to be hoped, always will bring?

These are questions big enough and worthy enough to challenge the great, big, strong family that is Davidson students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends around the world. I, for one, accept.

Rainbow sprinkles on your globally-sourced doughnut, anyone?



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