William Deresiewicz, an award-winning essayist and critic and the New York Times best-selling author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life, will discuss “The Higher Purpose of Education” on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. in Room 1302. His public evening presentation, sponsored by Sweetwater BOCES and Western Wyoming Community College, is one of three programs Deresiewicz will host for students and community members that day as part of his visit to the Western campus.
The evening program is free and open to the public, as is a 1:30 p.m. panel discussion featuring Deresiewicz and Western faculty and staff. That program will also be held in 1302.
“When I talk to audiences at community colleges and other public colleges and universities…I talk, first of all, about topics that are common to, and in my view equally important for, all college students at whatever institutions: the higher – that is, non-vocational – purposes of a college education in helping students to become reflective and self-reflective individuals, and the meaning and value of the liberal arts – what they are and why they are central in fulfilling those higher purposes,” Deresiewicz said. “I also talk about the political significance of this kind of education, especially for students from non-privileged backgrounds: in other words, the importance of a liberal arts education in empowering citizens within the public sphere.“
Deresiewicz was a professor of English at Yale University for 10 years and a graduate instructor at Columbia University for five. His essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” has been viewed more than one million times online. “Solitude and Leadership,” an address he delivered at West Point, has been taught across the military and corporate worlds.
As a professor, Deresiewicz taught courses in modern British fiction, the Great Books, Indian fiction, and writing. He is also the author of Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets (2004) and of academic articles on Austen, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Joseph Conrad. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia, where he had also gone to college and earned three Master’s degrees, including one in journalism.
“His book, Excellent Sheep, gives students a lot to think about as they wonder about where they should go to college, what college is for, what they might like to study, and how they should approach that part of their education,” said Associate Professor of English Christopher Propst, MFA, the event’s organizer. “He also gives those of us in education a lot to think about as we find ourselves in the midst of some cultural wars regarding education and the pressure to get students through college quickly, whether or not career readiness is always the best path for students, and what some of the downfalls are of the Common Core mentality of current national agendas.”
Deresiewicz will also speak to 200 Western students at 12 p.m. in the WWCC Theatre.
Deresiewicz is a Contributing Writer for The Nation and a Contributing Editor for The American Scholar, for which he wrote the “All Points” blog on culture and society from 2011-13. Deresiewicz’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Republic, Slate, Bookforum, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Yorker online, and The London Review of Books. His previous book is A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter (2011).
Deresiewicz received the 2013 Hiett Prize in the Humanities from The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. He was nominated for National Magazine Awards in 2008, 2009, and 2011, and he won the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona A. Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing for 2012, having been a finalist on three previous occasions.
Deresiewicz’s work has been translated into at least 15 languages. He has spoken to more than 35 colleges, high schools and educational groups.
Western is pleased to partner with Sweetwater BOCES to welcome students, educators and other community members to campus for this thought-provoking presentation about the purpose and practice of higher education and what students can and should be getting out of it.