Opening the first Common Hour discussion of the academic year, Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield addressed the future of liberal arts teaching and learning, announced a $1 million gift from an alumnus and his spouse, and highlighted a handful of major milestones the College has achieved through the first eight months of 2015.
"Liberal arts education is at a crossroads," Porterfield told students, faculty, administrative staff and trustees Thursday at Mayser Gymnasium. "Here, at Franklin & Marshall College, and everywhere else that values a liberal arts education, we must ask ourselves about the direction and destiny of our work."
Common Hour, held every Thursday during the academic year, brings the F&M community together for cultural and intellectual events. Students, faculty, administrative staff and trustees attended the event, where Porterfield recognized Dr. Eric Rackow '67 and his wife, Dr. Sari Kaminsky, for an endowed gift that will benefit pre-health students and programming.
"We need leaders like Dr. Kaminsky and Dr. Rackow as, together, we create and advance the future of liberal arts education at F&M and in America," Porterfield said.
Citing critics who have questioned the need for young people to pursue a college education, let alone one in the liberal arts, Porterfield argued that the F&M teaching and learning approach is more beneficial and important than ever before.
"It's a tradition that values the mind-on-mind explosions that happen when knowledge creators work with younger students who have that same potential to ask questions that no one has ever come up with before," he said.
Porterfield said the challenging changing times -- fueled by a technology-driven economy as dynamic as it is difficult and a nation struggling to reach a shared vision of the future -- demand leaders with liberal arts backgrounds who can create solutions.
"Liberal arts education speaks to our larger growth potential, not just as students, but as people," Porterfield said. "Some say liberal arts education has not come to a crossroads, it's come to a dead end … They say America can't afford to have it. We say just the opposite. America can't afford not to have it."
First-year students Meghan Gallagher and Tori Lang said they were inspired by Porterfield's talk.
"All of the things he was saying are why I chose to come to a liberal arts college," Gallagher said.
Lang was particularly enthused by Porterfield's point that a liberal arts education creates the best leaders.
"I liked what he was saying about solving national problems," Lang said. "It's true, you really need a liberal arts education to solve them."
During the early part of his talk, the president congratulated the F&M men's golf team, who last year won nine tournaments, a record across all three divisions, and women's lacrosse team, which made it to the NCAA Final Four.
He then lauded the more than 7,000 alumni who gave $26.5 million this year, and the young graduates whose rate of giving has increased steadily in recent years -- including a school record of 39 percent in 2014.
"The young are leading the way," he said.
Finally, the president reported on some major summer campus projects, including the renovations to Shadek-Fackenthal Library and Martin Library of the Sciences, as well as one of the residence halls.
"We have updated many spaces and tech classrooms," Porterfield said.