Dr. George Agich
Dr. George Agich

BGeXperience director speaks on why values matter

An audience of faculty, staff and students from across the University gathered Oct. 12 to hear Dr. George Agich, the new director of BGeXperience, address a basic but complex question: Why do values matter?

The question is timely since Bowling Green has become fully immersed in values exploration this semester. For the first time since the inception of BGeXperience, all incoming freshmen were required to participate in the program, and faculty in courses across the disciplines are attempting to introduce an awareness in students of how values, though largely unspoken, are implicit in each field of study.

Agich explained his views about the importance of defining one’s values, both in a university setting and in life.

“For us as a society and in BGeXperience, one reason values matter is that values tell us what’s important. They tell us who we are and help define our orientation in life.”

In discussing values, he said, he refers not only to values in the broadest sense—“those things you would live and die for”—but aesthetic and cognitive values as well: all the beliefs that shape one’s world view and guide one’s behavior.

A paradigm shift
Agich contrasted today’s recognition that values are embedded in every area of thought to an earlier time when scientists attempted to conduct their studies “in a value-free way,” not trusting them “because values spring from emotion and feelings and are not amenable to analysis, and are thus nonscientific.

"They tried to squeeze out values, to move them aside,” he explained.

Then, after World War II, a change occurred, he said. There was a “paradigm shift” toward acceptance of new knowledge that unseated previously held beliefs. This change in attitude was significant because “while anomalous findings had always been made, they had been moved aside because they did not cohere with the reigning orthodoxy,” Agich said.

It was not just academia but the social sphere that was changing as well, as ethical questions came up in the mid-20th century, he said, . Scientists confronted challenges to their beliefs in the importance of doing good when they were asked to participate in the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb, for example.

Things were changing very quickly, he said, as the acquisition of knowledge speeded up and brought with it all sorts of consequences. “I believe that we are living now in a time that is akin to or surpasses the Renaissance” in terms of changes in thinking that have occurred and are occurring.

The changes in science were paralleled by changes in society, he said. “People experienced consternation over the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. We have been faced with questions on death and dying, on birth and abortion.

“You didn’t have to hear it from an expert somewhere,” he said. “All the local newspapers were discussing it. It's all around us.”

Knowing our values
The idea of experts poses a question, Agich said. “Can there be and should there be experts?” he asked. “We really don’t need them because we’re all experts when it comes to our own values. But we have to be careful because we really don’t know our values.”

In today’s society, where people tend to relocate often and are confronted with different social groups, clarifying one’s beliefs and understanding why one has them can be important in learning to tolerate diversity and to adapt to changing situations, Agich said. “There is a conversation about that going on in corporate America today,” he noted.

That is why BGeXperience is so important in giving students the opportunity to think critically about who they are and where they come from. Also, from a practical standpoint, young adulthood is a perfect time to address values as young people at that age naturally question values as part of their developmental process. “So we should be very comfortable doing it in an academic setting,” he said.

He praised BGSU’s decision in implementing its values-exploration program to not consign it to a group of “experts” but instead to say “No one owns this. This is so important that we have to include everyone. Faculty have learned and taken on new challenges.”

Rejecting the idea of experts also means that faculty will not engage in a “typical, pontifical lecture on values as in the past, but are engaged in dialogue with students in which they are learning from one another. This dialogue is then shaping the discipline.”

October 17, 2005