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WORLD FOCUS: Definition of an ‘educated person’

May 11, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

The announcement that Taylor Reveley, the 27th president of the College of William and Mary will retire next year in June 30 after having headed the university for a decade, brought forth an avalanche of reflections on his contribution to higher education.

Before becoming president of the college, Reveley served as dean of William and Mary's law school for a decade. As an educator he is leaving a high mark at the college.

Prior to becoming an academician, Reveley was the author of "War Powers of the President and Congress - Who Holds the Arrow and the Olive Branch?" and a seasoned, practicing lawyer. The volume is considered one of the most authoritative books on the subject. Nowadays, it is a must read.

No wonder that Reveley was chosen as co-director of the National War Powers Commission, a bipartisan group headed by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher. He and his co-director, John Jeffries, the dean of the University of Virginia's Law School, are credited to bring to fruition an effort that eluded other commissions.

But, in a way, Revelry was predestined to become an educator. His father was president of Hampden-Sydney College, and his son, also named Taylor, is the president at Longwood University.

Considering this environment, I assumed that "education" was a constant subject at the Reveley's dinner table. I asked him, how would, he describe an "educated person."

"In my view," he said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette, "an educated person is someone who has learned how to learn and, in the process, developed a lifelong appetite for continuing to learn. It's also someone who challenges assumptions and insist on having evidence to support conclusions. And, someone with a breath of perspective and a willingness to engage in a wide range of ideas and people."

Faculty and students around the campus of William & Mary, see Reveley as the epitome of an "educated person." I asked him, how his education differed from the one offered now at William & Mary.

"My education an eon ago, like the one that William & Mary now provides, was rooted in the liberal arts, with strong emphasis on learning how to think and write effectively," he said. "Since I was in school, however, the amount of knowledge about almost everything has grown exponentially, the emphasis on interdisciplinary work and international competence have greatly increased, and immersion in diversity has taken a huge step forward. Then there are the revolutionary advances in technology, which have transformed how information is acquired, research is done, notes are taken, papers are written, documents are delivered, human beings talk to another, and the speed with which everything happens."

Reveley was instrumental in creating a new curriculum at William & Mary. It had not changed for 20 years. But he noted, "We are talking about the 'general education' part of the undergraduate curriculum, which amounts to 25 percent of the whole."

He explained that the general education curriculum needed a fresh look to make it more responsive to the world in which we are now living. It addressed the need for more emphasis on interdisciplinary work, more attention to things global, and more effort to engage the diversity of life today

I also asked Reveley how he sees William & Mary's place in the constellation of American higher education?

"William and Mary is an iconic American institution, with a rich history of enduring significance. This alone ensures the Alma Mater of the Nation a place in the constellation," he said. "But we enjoy a preeminent place because W&M remains one of the leading universities in today's world still rooted in the liberal arts, with abiding commitment to great undergraduate teaching even as we move increasingly into research and strong graduate and professional programs."

Then he added, "As one of our professors says, "We have the brains of a big research university, but the heart of a small liberal arts college.'

"That's true. It's rare. And it matters enormously."


Frank Shatz's column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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