Head of School: Think More, Do Less

Thursday 5 May, 2011

Universities are in danger of losing touch with some of their traditional purposes, according to Associate Professor David Cohen.

Professor Cohen, Head of the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, spoke to science students at Warrane on May 3 about some of his concerns regarding the trajectory of tertiary education.

“We spend less and less time thinking and more and more time doing, ‘being busy’” he said.

Professor Cohen said that many students were too worried about their formal study and didn’t devote time to considering questions beyond it.

“University is a time to develop world views, not just conform to existing ones. Students should develop a view of where society should go.”

Professor Cohen said that challenging the status quo and addressing big issues are intrinsic to a university’s mission. He noted that it had be quite a while since he last saw a decent debate on campus, although UNSW has been trying to generate debate by inviting some of the world's top thinkers to give occasional lectures.

He added that it was inconsistent to discount faith-based world views on the basis that they were 'biased'.

In an entertaining presentation, Professor Cohen also spoke about his own university days. He described his involvement in the University of Sydney regiment and in university rugby.

At age 22 he travelled to Ontario, Canada, and enrolled in Queens University. It was there that he really saw the advantages of "residential universities."

Attempting to throw himself into the local culture, Professor Cohen tried out for an ice hockey team. The experiment ended when, in an on-field collision, he broke the ribs of a Professor who later appeared on his thesis examination panel!

Despite this, Professor Cohen recommended visiting an overseas university as an important part of a student’s university experience.

(Images from the evening are available here)

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