APU's Honors College Inspires Leadership, Virtue, and Good Living
In “The Proof Liberal Arts Colleges Need?,” Inside Higher Ed cites Richard A. Detweiler’s study that investigated the relationship between liberal arts education and alumni leading successful, happy lives. The findings indicate that students who graduate with a liberal arts education tend to possess greater leadership ability, morality, and life satisfaction than peers from other college settings. I believe Azusa Pacific University seeks to instill these three traits in its students, and that the Honors College endeavors to do the same—molding brighter minds and better people.
During my first semester as a student in The Honors College we explored the theme of leadership. By comparing Machiavelli’s The Prince to texts about Christian leadership such as Erasmus’ Education of a Christian Prince, the Honors College prompted us to consider what it means to lead. I learned that a leader is not someone who benefits from others, but rather someone from whom all benefit.
This philosophy influences the way I view the presidential election race. Instead of focusing on party loyalty or political agendas, I am most interested in the apparent virtue (or lack thereof) of the presidential candidates. I ask such questions as, “Who is trying to attain authority so that they may better serve others?” and, “Whose word has remained consistent, integrous, and reliable?”
The Honors College has not only shaped the way I view others’ leadership but also the way I view myself as a leader. I once sought deference, respect, and authority, but I've learned that this is the opposite of what leadership truly entails. I am a leader not because I demand respect, but because I am respectful of others, not because others serve me, but because I serve others, not because I obtain power, but because I empower others.
Detweiler’s study underscores that students with frequent faculty interaction later engage in volunteerism and are more inclined to charitable giving. Generally speaking, the article identifies the connection between liberal arts education and morality. Deep discussions and meaningful relationships with faculty are core features of the Honors College. Diana Glyer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of English and Honors College faculty member, invited students to her home to discuss Dante’s Divine Comedy. Such opportunities to interact with faculty make the Honors College uniquely equipped to nurture student morality.
The texts we read are steeped in issues of virtue and uprightness. We learn the importance of good habits from Aristotle, the consequences of sin from Dante, and the necessity of obedience to God from Milton.
The curriculum itself also promotes virtue. David Weeks, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College, ensures that the honors curriculum includes diverse texts which enable students to escape their own context and study a broad range of life experiences. We read and discuss authors such as Sun Tzu, Booker T. Washington, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
One of the greatest gifts the Honors College has given me is an intellectual justification for living virtuously. I used to believe that morality was “nice” but entirely separate from my intellect. However, both the curriculum and thoughtful Honors College faculty like Gary Black Jr., Ph.D., who invites students to pray for one another before each class discussion, have given me motivation for reconciling goodness with reason. I’ve realized that it is just as important to become virtuous as it is to acquire knowledge.
This same faculty engagement plays out in the study’s final assertion about alumni possessing more meaningful family and personal lives. The Honors College demonstrates this by providing students with the opportunity to embrace healthy perspectives. Professor Glyer calls the program, “an environment where students are challenged to wrestle with complicated problems and refuse to settle with simplistic answers.” By exploring complex and incompatible ideas, and engaging in discussion with teachers and students, we become better equipped to manage the intricacies and challenges in our personal lives. We practice and live out the affirmation, “My perspective is not the only one that matters.” This learned humility encourages better interpersonal conflict management and problem solving, and thereby, helps students improve themselves and their relationships.
Recently, I’ve felt less compelled to be “correct” when in disagreements. Instead, I try to seriously consider other points of view. My friends and family have remarked that they appreciate how I better acknowledge their perspectives. Ultimately, this change is beneficial to me because I no longer feel that my confidence and ego are rooted in being right or in control. I am learning how to identify myself with how I love, support, and serve others.
Christopher Flannery, Ph.D., a professor in the Honors College, captures the its ultimate goal. “By facilitating the study of works from the Old Testament to Nietzche, we seek to help students in growing to know the truth.” I believe that in the process of exploring various and often competing worldviews, we must use discernment and discover our own values and meaning amidst the ideological chaos of the texts we read.
Like the texts we wrestle with in the Honors College, life itself can often be full of conflicting ideas and opposing purposes. My freshman year of college, I had a crisis of faith. As I matured, I realized that the simple answers I had been given by churches and schools weren’t enough for me anymore. I was in serious danger of succumbing to cynicism and despair. The most important thing the Honors College gave was a restoration of my faith in God, my desire for the truth, and my concern for the well-being of others. By learning to weigh myriad concepts and discern their value, I feel better prepared to enter into the real world and exhibit non-circumstantial leadership, virtue, and contentment.
Posted: February 19, 2016