Council pushes to reinstate humanities at U

by Justin Ware

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni recently intensified its campaign to reinstate the University’s humanities department.

Following last month’s terrorist attacks, ACTA called for increased education on Western civilization and questioned the University’s commitment to providing students with the information necessary to assess “America’s new war.”

“Sept. 11 has underscored that our particular society is unique in many ways,” said Anne Neal, ACTA vice president and general counsel.

Neal said the humanities department, which was abolished in 1992, should be re-established so students can learn the fundamental principles of other societies.

The study of humanities in colleges nationwide dates back to the 1930s at the University of Chicago, said current University Humanities Institute director Robin Brown.

Brown said research has changed the humanities curriculum, much like research has changed other fields of study such as anthropology.

Re-establishing the old program would not work in today’s learning environment, Brown said.

“After Sept. 11, it should be abundantly clear that we live in a much more complicated world than what can be addressed with an antique curriculum,” Brown said.

Neal and others in favor of re-establishing the University’s humanities department said students are not learning enough about those principles.

George Kliger, the only full-time University humanities professor and a remnant of the extinct department, said the University no longer offers humanities courses in the civilizations of India and China.

But Dan Brewer, former director of the Humanities Institute, said the institution still teaches courses on those topics.

The department of Asian languages and literature recently brought in five new positions, Brewer said.

Genie Smith, director of communications for the College of Liberal Arts, said the CLA degree covers humanities subjects.

But Kliger said the line between humanities and liberal arts is unclear. “No program or department has the characteristics of humanities,” he said.

Kliger said some courses within a liberal arts education contain humanities characteristics but not enough to offer a full perspective.

He said students born in the United States, along with those living here from other cultures, should be acquainted with U.S. culture.

According to a written statement from CLA, the humanities department had a disproportionately low number of undergraduate majors-to-faculty ratio. There were 69 humanities majors for eight faculty members.

The document also said “the alleged ‘disappearance of the humanities major’ never happened.”

“Humanities is a very significant component of a liberal education,” Smith said.

The document said the University currently offers courses fulfilling humanities requirements – Greek and Roman Mythology, and Art in Egypt, for example.

Neal said integrating humanities courses into the CLA curriculum is a matter of the University’s faculty resource priorities.

“What’s the best use of resources?” she said.

Neal said the University has more than 700 courses considered to be associated with humanities. But she said these courses cover too many topics yet have narrowly designed curricula. This type of approach denies students breadth in humanities studies, Neal said.

The Humanities Institute director disagreed.

“In my views, the humanities has never been served better,” Brown said.


Justin Ware covers faculty, staff and administration and welcomes comments at [email protected]