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Liberal education opens up the world

By Zhao Xinying | China Daily | Updated: 2016-10-31 08:22

Although he didn't have a liberal arts education, David Madigan, executive vice-president for arts and sciences at Columbia University in the City of New York, is still a "huge believer" in this form of education.

The Irish-born US statistician has three children, all of whom are students at Columbia College, one of the finest undergraduate institutions in the United States providing students with wide-ranging perspectives on subjects including literature, history, music, art and science.

"It's been fabulous just to watch their intellectual development," Madigan said, adding that having a liberal education is like having great book clubs, where students work in small groups, read the same thing at the same time and talk about their reading constantly.

"It's an extraordinary experience," Madigan said. In his eyes, a solid liberal arts education prepares people to lead a beautiful life.

The faculty of arts and sciences that Madigan is in charge of comprises faculty from the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences in five different schools within Columbia University.

With 14 Nobel laureates, 48 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 78 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the faculty is among the most recognized in the world. The alumni are leaders in their fields and widely recognized for their contributions to society.

Madigan came to Beijing in late October, to make connections with potential students and meet the alumni of Columbia University, as well as creating new partnerships with educational institutions and other entities in China.

Born and raised in a "small, poor" town in Ireland, Madigan earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and PhD in statistics, both from Trinity College Dublin.

It was a focused and specialized education, but Madigan accessed a whole different world of ideas, history, philosophy and thinking through reading.

His Irish town, though small and poor, had a very good library.

"So I read constantly," he said.

He said a liberal arts education is perhaps not the only way to acquire a breadth of knowledge, but it's a beautiful way to do it.

"It's never ending, I still read all the time," he said.

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