By Hannah Lewry

A push towards narrow and vocational training in public universities has come at the expense of the “critical discourse and critical thinking” that is crucial to a functioning democracy, says David Marshall, UC Santa Barbara’s Vice Chancellor.  

"Education is required to prevent despotism and abuses of government power," Marshall told a crowd of 100 students and faculty at a recent afternoon lecture.


The session, titled "Teaching the People: Enlightenment and the American Republic" was part of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center’s Social Securities series. Ignorance, he said, will not flourish in a society that encourages knowledge and virtue.

Marshall was educated at Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities and served as the dean of the Humanities and Fine Arts division at UCSB for 16 years. In 2014, Marshall was named Executive Vice Chancellor.

His academic work focuses on the historical underpinnings of liberal arts and education, which he discussed with an audience of undergraduate and graduate students, professors, and local community residents.

Marshall began the lecture by emphasizing the importance of the Republic of Letters, a community of intellectuals across the globe who communicated with each other during the Enlightenment.  

Described as the “Internet before its time,” this organization was “operating across networks of public and private discourse,” said Marshall, and developed the ideas upon which America’s founding fathers based their advocacy for public and liberal education.

By cross-referencing the documents of Jefferson, Adams and Washington, Marshall found a pattern in the tone of the founding fathers. The first six presidents of the United States attempted to establish a national university but were met with strong resistance from Congress, showing just how passionate the founders were about the “general diffusion of knowledge.”

Marshall explained the founders understood that preserving rights and liberties was dependent on public and liberal education. He stressed the need to return to these fundamentals of education today.

Education should be not be the “handmaid to industry,” he said, but rather a way to cultivate a “general diffusion of knowledge” that society needs to function. He urged universities, including UCSB, to re-prioritize “critical discourse and critical thinking,” when evaluating our system of education.

Hannah Lewry is a third year Communication student at UC Santa Barbara, minoring in Professional Writing.