Centre News

Stanton Hales takes “A Contrarian View” in Founders Day address

January 17, 2013 By Diane Johnson, College Editor       
Stanton Hales, Jr. R. Stanton Hales Jr. (above left, receiving an honorary degree
from Centre President John A. Roush) discussed the importance
of a liberal—rather, “liberating”—arts education in the 2013
Founders Day address.

R. Stanton Hales Jr., president emeritus of The College of Wooster in Ohio and a champion of the liberal arts for more than four decades, discussed the true purpose of higher education during Centre College’s annual Founders Day Convocation on Jan. 16. The title of his talk was “A Contrarian View.”

Hales calls himself a “contrarian” because unlike many in higher education—as well as many parents—he does not believe that the point of college is merely vocational.

“Unfortunately, there is increasing pressure toward a particular common purpose [of higher education] that, in my opinion, is ill-chosen,” he said. “This is the growing assumption and expectation that the primary purpose of all higher education is to prepare you for, and to land you, your first job.”

Rather, he argues, higher education, especially a liberal arts education, should be judged by how well it prepares students for their last job, the one that is “tremendously more complex and challenging than the first.”

A graduate of a liberal arts college himself, he believes that the liberal arts, or, as he called them, the “liberating arts,” best provide an environment that encourages growth, both in college and throughout life.

“Such an education has been valued since classical antiquity for freeing one’s mind, liberating one’s mind from enslavement by ignorance, dogma and prejudice,” he said. “It is valued for preparing its students for enlightened leadership and the potential to grow throughout one’s career to that last job, where maturity, knowledge, judgment and wisdom must combine.”

He then quoted Donald Farish, president of Roger Williams University, who once offered his own assessment of vocational education versus the liberal arts: “‘The practical gets you the first job,” said Farish. “The liberal arts get you to be CEO.’”

As part of the Founders Day ceremony, Centre awarded Hales the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.

Hales graduated from Pomona College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in mathematics, then earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard. He returned to Pomona, where he spent 23 years teaching and serving as associate dean, before moving to Wooster for another 17 years. Since 2007, he has been a senior consultant with Academic Search Inc., helping to match colleges with potential senior administrators.

Centre received its charter from the Kentucky legislature nearly two centuries ago on Jan. 21, 1819.

To read Hales’ complete address, click here.

Have comments, suggestions, or story ideas? E-mail elizabeth.trollinger@centre.edu with your feedback.

Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.

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