By Meghan Barrett
Denise Battles, who became a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Colgate University in 1985, was selected to be President of the State University of New York at Geneseo in 2015. Battles began her own career at a liberal arts school, figuring she wanted “to be an artist or a scientist…going off to Colgate, that was the draw,” she recalled. After earning her bachelor’s, she went to the University of California, Los Angeles to earn a PhD in geology, then accepted an assistant professor position at Georgia Southern.
Battles has held a variety of administrative positions since 1994, moving from Georgia Southern to the University of Northern Colorado, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and finally settling at Geneseo. About her transition from faculty to administration, she said, “in the Dean’s office …I could support needed change in a way I couldn’t do as easily as a faculty member.” Battles was not originally looking to leave UNC Wilmington when the opportunity to come to Geneseo presented itself. However, the fact that SUNY Geneseo is a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges was a huge draw.
Battles believes that a liberal arts education prepares students for a dynamic society and a job market in which their careers are likely to change several times. “It’s so important that our graduates aren’t just trained for a particular job but are prepared to be lifelong learners…bright, capable of change and teamwork with oral and written communication, problem solving, and analytical skills…all things that come out of an education grounded in the liberal arts,” she said.
The public is increasingly asking for accountability from liberal arts institutions, Battles observed. Scrutiny of the liberal arts model has been on the rise as the public questions if a broader educational base adequately prepares students for life after college. Beyond all the skills developed as a result of a liberal arts education, Battles said that “producing socially responsible citizens is a core part of the liberal arts mission. That’s not so much the case at institutions that are very focused on job training…I think that’s something that we can look at with great pride.” The individuals associated with liberal arts education have a responsibility to tell the story of its value, she explained.
Phi Beta Kappa, Battles believes, has been a critical part of articulating the value of liberal arts institutions nationwide. As a member of the board of the Council of Colleges and Arts and Sciences, a national association of deans of art and science colleges, she had the opportunity to present the inaugural Arts and Sciences Advocacy Award to ΦBK in 2008.
Battles commented that she is very appreciative to have had the opportunity to join ΦBK and to become president of a campus with an active ΦBK chapter. “My affiliation has brought with it access to a community of individuals that are very dedicated to liberal education in the arts and sciences, and that’s something that I prize,” she said. As SUNY Geneseo’s president, she values Phi Beta Kappa all the more for highlighting the achievement of the highest caliber students on campus and fostering a sense of community among the university’s lifelong learners.
Meghan Barrett is a senior earning her BS in biology and creative writing at SUNY Geneseo. She is president of Alpha Delta Epsilon regional sorority and a proud member of the Alpha Delta of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at SUNY Geneseo.