WEB EXCLUSIVE: Guest speaker at library stresses liberal education

Aaron Kaufman

A nearly empty room witnessed Fred Baumann, political science professor at Kenyon College, speak on social philosophy and its value in liberal education.

“Culture is a fighting word,” proclaimed Baumann, suggesting that social understanding through a societal lens inevitably ignites conflict.

He offered guidance, saying that nothing is above question. However, fewer than 20 people would hear his words. Among the crowd were just three students, while the rest was composed of faculty and library administration staff.

Banter within the audience mentioned the poor attendance, but that conversation was subdued when Baumann began speaking. The crowd remained fixed on Baumann, enthralled by his message.

“To identify a culture as a culture is already to negate it,” said Baumann. “To know that its basic claim – namely to be right about how things are, and how you should live – if it is not provably wrong, it is at least not provably right.”

Baumann’s 50-minute lecture focused on the importance of philosophical observation, specifically citing a multicultural approach to learning as being the best way to comprehend the world as it really is, rather than as how it is described to us.

To emphasize his points, Baumann’s lecture included a number of analogies, complete with character voices and feverish hand motions. Among his comparisons, he likened contemporary U.S. society to that of the collapsed Roman Empire. He added that the greatest lasting legacy of the ancient empire is “a historical curiosity, and at best, a late-summer ethnic festival.”

A question-answer session immediately followed the lecture, putting Baumann’s suggestions into action.

Kim Sebaly, associate professor in the College of Education, used a Styrofoam cup to take down points made in the address, and he further discussed those points with Baumann after the lecture.

Despite the prominence of empty chairs, Baumann said he was happy with the lecture.

“I’m very grateful to Kent for having me,” said Baumann. “(The audience) asked great questions and really listened. It was wonderful.”

Contact Library and Information Services reporter Aaron Kaufman at [email protected].