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Intended to heighten local and national awareness of research at UC Davis, the Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker Series reaches across disciplines and colleges to foster critical dialogue and creative engagement, a core mission of the Humanities Institute. Each forum features a focused presentation by a renowned speaker on a variety of topics followed by a moderated discussion with faculty and policy experts. The series, administered with the assistance of the Humanities Institute, provides opportunities for robust discussions around topics involving food and agriculture, biochemistry, medicine, and humanities and scientific research.

Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, began the series with his talk titled, “Why Persian Humanism Matters Today.” Dabashi discussed academia’s understanding of human- ism and how it is applied to culture. “The point,” Dabashi argued, “is to recognize the differences in the study of human- ism in order to enrich the global experiences of what it means to be human.”

The Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, Russell Berman proposed an ambitious vision for the future of humanities graduate education that stressed shorter time to degree and greater professionalization of doctoral students. Berman emphasized that a humanities doctoral degree is a vital part of higher education and that humanities doctoral students are crucial actors in public life.

Shirley Tilghman, a pioneer in molecular biology and Princeton’s first woman president, discussed the current state of biomedical science in a talk titled “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Life in Biomedical Science.” Tilghman contended that graduate programs across the country are producing too many Ph.D.s, glutting the market with researchers competing for too few permanent positions (and indeed, not even enough temporary postdoc positions). Just as the humanities have had to take a long, hard look at their career placement, so do biomedical departments.

Nigel Thrift, Professor and Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, explored how geography shows us both “how we know where we are, and how we feel where we are.” Thrift argued that each navigational device that is “used for knowing where you are” produces knowledge about how we know and experience space in radically different ways. Thrift touched briefly on how the state and the economy provide ways to “standardize and stabilize” our experiences of moving through space.

President of the University of Miami and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna E. Shalala examined noncommunicable diseases in developing countries. Shalala explained that the biggest health threat to developing nations are not diseases like Ebola but chronic diseases people of developed nations are very much familiar with, like cancer and heart disease. Global health is in transition, and we need to reprioritize to make this new venture important, according to Shalala.

Closing the 2014-2015 Chancellor’s Colloquium season was Teresa A. Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia. President Sullivan’s talk, “Ready or Not: Preparing Students for 21st Century Careers” focused on the (dis)connection between higher education and the labor market. Sullivan argued that a liberal arts education imparts the core skills required, and preferred, by any employer: skills like lifelong critical thinking, superior oral and written communications, respect for cultural difference and diversity, an ethical approach to decision making, and consideration of multiple perspectives before arriving at a conclusion.


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