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Anne Curzan, the University of Michigan Literature, Science and the Arts dean, spoke about the value of a liberal arts education to a crowd of approximately 150 people Tuesday afternoon in Keene Theater. The speech was part of the The Residential College’s annual Robertson Lecture.

Curzan said she is constantly fascinated by the breadth of subjects students can explore in LSA and expressed her love for learning, especially about languages. She served as the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English, Linguistics and Education prior to her appointment as dean.

“I went to college, and I didn’t even know what linguistics was,” Curzan said. “How I’ve got from there, from going to college as a math major to becoming a linguistics major, is through a liberal arts degree.”

When discussing the importance of exploration, Curzan noted the social pressure that forces people to act as if they always know the answer to every question asked of them. Curzan said there is excitement in discovering the answer.

“We need to give more credit to the courage it takes to say, ‘I don’t know,’” Curzan said. “You know, the moment I really came to respect you was the first time you said, ‘I don’t know.’” 

Curzan then contemplated the future of undergraduate education and how it should be designed to reflect real goals and aspirations. She encouraged students to think about how they can contribute to the common good through their studies. She emphasized finding purpose through lifelong learning and said even though college can push students to fixate on their grades, she hopes this isn’t the case for most students. 

Near the end of her speech, Curzan underscored the importance of learning outside the classroom by sharing with the audience her story of teaching English in China, a trip she undertook despite objections from her friends and family.

“It fundamentally changed who I was as a person,” Curzan said. “These experiences are what help us learn. They are scary. Real learning is scary, and real learning takes courage, because it is going into the unknown and exploring the unknown.”

After the talk, students and faculty headed to a zero-waste reception organized outside the Keene Theatre. LSA freshman Marnie Guaman said she was excited to hear the dean speak, adding that she enjoyed Curzan’s story about teaching in the Summer Bridge Scholars program.

“She said that her least favorite word was impactful, but her speech was very impactful for me,” Guaman said. “I was in the Summer Bridge program, so I could go back to that experience.” 

LSA senior Mya Harris expressed her interest in learning about the future of liberal arts education.

“I really found her background interesting, how she got to where she was and her own experience with liberal arts education,” Harris said. “I also liked the way she talked about the future of the University.”

Lola Yang can be reached at lolayang@umich.edu

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