Willamette University

Speaking and Knowing

He has a PhD in speech communication, and it must come naturally enough: People seek out David Douglass just to hear him talk.

It has been said that Douglass has an insight for every topic, and some on campus report that, after meeting with him, they feel sudden urges to quote Socrates in day-today conversation.

This year, Douglass’ job takes on a new dimension as he serves as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts following Carol Long’s departure. He is already an important figure in the classroom as a professor of rhetoric and media studies, and he has spent the last few years as associate dean. He knows his way around the Willamette curriculum.

He has already helped shape it and will continue to do so. “A liberal education might once have been declamation or a sophistic tradition where you had to memorize things,” he says. “But I think over the years its primary focus has changed to a kind of active engagement on the part of students.”

This means that students can contribute to “creating new knowledge” rather than relying on what has already been found. Aside from being wonderfully productive, this approach empowers new students to see themselves as participants capable of making a mark right away. It happens through increased faculty/student research, immersive learning outside the classroom (and sometimes outside the continent), and interdepartmental collaboration.

For Douglass, it’s a fitting challenge. For the rest of us, it’s an exciting process to watch.

“It’s not just about lab techniques where you’re replicating or reproducing something; instead, you’re actively generating knowledge that had never been known before. You’re actively engaged in collaborative work with your faculty members.”