Building better citizens and business leaders through liberal arts education.
Polger explained that the impetus for Truth, Justice and the American Way? was a two-decade economic and political trend — arguably now the prevailing zeitgeist — of devaluing humanities inquiry and favoring technical training.
“There are plenty of people who think that [regardless of] high-minded ideals people might have had in 1819, when UC was founded, right now the highest priority is job training,” he said.
“The corresponding view in the political sphere,” Polger asserted, “is ’we’re gonna say what it takes to get things done.’ This is a conception of truth as power, or replacing truth with power.”
“I wanted to get philosophers involved in this conversation,” he said, noting that the history of philosophy has long engaged in, “discussions of ‘truth’ – of pragmatic conceptions of truth, of power conceptions of truth, or relativistic conceptions of truth.”
It seemed to him a natural fit to invite Lynch to be a keynote speaker.
“His technical work in philosophy is on what truth is, but the role he’s taken on publicly is to emphasize the importance of truth for democracy, for self-fulfillment, and to remind people why truth is valuable,” Polger emphasized.
The symposium, he said, will remind current and prospective students, parents, and community leaders “why you might want to take up the kind of study that emphasizes truth, knowledge and understanding.”
Training students not for their first jobs, but for their last jobs, too.
Although many Americans today harbor misconceptions that studying abstract topics like philosophy, psychology, literature, and the arts yield no profitable results, Polger argued those views are — and should — being challenged with increasing frequency by corporate leaders.
“You see article after article of CEOs saying, ‘We need people with broad skills, who can communicate, think critically and write,’ — all things that Arts and Sciences students do really well,” he observed.
At their core, the applied sciences rely on agreed-upon truths, in the form of experimentally-derived data. But experiments are only designed after initial, abstract inquiries into the nature of something have been made.
Students pursuing technical majors need what Polger called “foundational” arts and sciences-derived knowledge to advance in their careers.
“If you’re an engineer, and you’re really good at it, the next thing you know, you’re a manager and not an engineer anymore,” he reasoned. “There’s a different skill set that you’d need to draw upon.”
Indeed, hybrid degrees are becoming less the exception and more the norm as public universities respond to the labor demand.
Those who emerge with them are not only more “robot-proof,” Polger said, they’re prepared to fill jobs that none of us have even dreamed of yet.
For example, he cited, “The World Wide Web came into existence when I was in college. Now there’s a massive industry built on a technology that no one I went to college with was trained to work with.”
“Oftentimes students and parents are unduly focused on that first job and forget that the odds that their last job will be their first job are very low,” he argued.
“That’s what distinguishes a university education from a trade school education. We’re not just teaching you how to do something now — we’re preparing you for a lifetime of career possibilities.”
Appreciation for truth is imperative not only for success in business, but also for the continued function of democratic societies.
Democracy pre-supposes certain concepts, including the existence and attainability of truth of some common ground, Polger said. For good governance, citizens must be able to work together to find it.
And that, he intimated, is the truth, yet another value of the arts and sciences: they instill empathy, compassion and reason.
“What’s required is not just that each of us be able to [find truth] ourselves, but that each of us respect others’ ability to do that, and recognize that we need to treat our fellow citizens as people who are intelligent and able to make decisions,” Polger concluded.