Cornell University

November 29 2012

"Last Lecture"

Cowie's talk explores higher education's ability to ask big questions

Jeff CowieProfessor Jefferson Cowie presents his hypothetical "Last Lecture" at 5 p.m. tonight in Kennedy Hall's Call Auditorium.

The public is invited to the talk, entitled "Thoughts on the Meaning of Higher Education in an Era of Rising Inequality." It is sponsored by the Cornell Chapter of Mortar Board, a national honor society.

"I'm extremely honored to be selected. It's a daunting task to think about one's 'last lecture,' but I will try to bring two things together that are very important to me: issues of inequality and the meaning and purpose of higher education," Cowie said.

"As inequality rises, college becomes less accessible, but also, I will argue, higher education becomes less meaningful to those who do have access to it as it has to be more instrumental and vocational in nature," he said in an interview yesterday.

"In a practical way, we in higher ed are doing an adequate job of training students for employment. But my issue is: Can we still afford the big questions? Do issues such as what makes for a good life, a vibrant community, and an ethical path still animate higher education? We cannot afford to turn our backs on those questions."

ILR Professors David Lipsky and Ronald Ehrenberg have delivered a "Last Lecture."

Held once a semester at Cornell, it is modeled after an inspiring lecture given in 2007 by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor. Pausch died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. More about his life can be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/26/us/26pausch.html.

The 121-year-old Cornell chapter of Mortar Board is a founding chapter of the honor society, which recognizes college seniors for ability and achievement in scholarship, leadership and service. More about the group is available at http://www.cornellmortarboard.org/.