Last semester, Provost Wendy Hill and I began to share with you our occasional thoughts about the value of a Lafayette education. In these challenging economic times, we all want to be certain that our investment in a Lafayette education is paying off in ways that help produce graduates who will lead in their careers and live fulfilling lives.
Recently, a market research firm conducted focus groups and surveys of Lafayette alumni, faculty, and current students to help give us a clearer sense of how our College’s strengths are perceived by some of our major stakeholders today. What emerged: Lafayette is distinguished by our emphasis on crossing traditional academic boundaries. This encourages and enables students to connect and integrate knowledge from different disciplines and allows them to experience the benefits of working with others to approach intellectual challenges and wider-world problems from multiple perspectives. This is critical for citizenship and leadership in an increasingly interconnected world.
Our faculty are the heart of this, but we also are pleased when extraordinarily distinguished guests speak about the value of such an approach. Last week, Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences, spent time with students and faculty members in an intimate afternoon seminar, then delivered a major address to an overflow audience in Colton Chapel.
Sponsored by the Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government, the policy studies program, and the environmental studies initiative, Dr. Ostrom’s visit exemplifies the way Lafayette faculty from different disciplines work together. Indeed, our guest herself epitomizes the crossing of boundaries. The first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, she holds degrees and academic appointments in political science and works on issues of environmental sustainability. This speaks to the power of multi-disciplinary thinking that characterizes a Lafayette education.
In her lecture at Lafayette, Dr. Ostrom challenged the conventional wisdom that common-pool resources such as forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems are poorly managed and frequently destroyed and, thus, require regulation by central government or by private market forces. Through studies of user-managed irrigation systems and forests, she showed that the outcomes of self-government by users are, more often than not, better than external control. Users of common-pool resources often develop sophisticated networks and institutions to make decisions, solve problems, and enforce rules for the common good.
At Lafayette, students learn how to work together to reach their goals and solve problems. Dr. Ostrom spoke eloquently about the importance of this, and the thoughtful questions our students posed to her following the speech made it clear that this resonated strongly with them.
Interacting with figures like Dr. Ostrom enriches our students immensely and represents significant value-added in their educational experience. While not all guests are Nobel laureates, we are pleased to bring many prominent leaders to campus each year.
I am optimistic about Lafayette’s future and I will, from time to time, share with you stories that help to explain why.
With best regards,
Daniel H. Weiss