July 19, 2004

Report shows humanities research well vested at Emory


By Michael Terrazas

In April the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a report urging research universities to tie support for the humanities more closely to strategic planning. For people at Emory, the report was good news; many of its recommendations already are in place at the University.

Produced by a task force of 19 AAU presidents, provosts and deans--including former Emory President Bill Chace--the report acknowledged that scholarship in the humanities is experiencing a revival in the United States, but warned that this could change. Federal funds, from such entities as the National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH], as well as private support from foundations, have shrunk, and this trend likely will continue.

"We found that universities are supporting a wide variety of humanities projects and facilities, but many of these efforts are being carried out on an ad hoc basis, without full integration into the broader goals of the university," said University of Virginia President John Casteen, who chaired the task force. "For that reason, our report recommends that university presidents and chancellors purposefully incorporate the humanities into their institutional planning and that they regularly remind the university and the broader community of the fundamental importance of the humanities."

Two summers ago the task force surveyed American and Canadian universities (including all 62 AAU institutions) on best practices in the humanities. The report contains 10 broad recommendations, urging such things as encouraging more undergraduates to study in the humanities; building partnerships with K-12 schools and other educational and cultural organizations; seeking new opportunities for language instruction; and petitioning for an increase in humanities funding from both private and public sources.

For example, recommendation No. 8 reads, "University presidents, provosts and humanities deans should take responsibility for sustaining the vigor and quality of humanities scholarship and its dissemination and preservation through book publishing and other appropriate communication mechanisms."

Emory College Dean Bobby Paul lauded the goals presented in the report but added that Emory already is doing most if not all of the activities recommended. In recent years, the University has launched such efforts as the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI) and the Emory College Language Center, not to mention the myriad and ongoing efforts toward internationalization not only in the college but all of Emory's schools. As for humanities funding being in jeopardy, this is nothing new, Paul said.

"The university must be the granting agency for humanities research--that will never change," he said. "In a way, NEH and foundational support has never been a big part of humanities support anyway; this reflects the priorities of the American public at large and the Congress, and I don't see it radically changing."

According to a report prepared by the college, Emory has more faculty (41 percent) involved in humanities research than do its peers (averaging 32 percent). Comparisons such as these are difficult because different schools have different definitions of what the "humanities" are; performing arts, for example, are defined as humanistic pursuits at some places but not at others.

"The humanities penetrate so many things we do here," said Rosemary Magee, senior associate dean of the college. "There has been a long and robust tradition of focusing on them at Emory. Faculty feel a sense of support for their research, and as a result, a lot of things we do have a strong humanities emphasis."

Magee pointed to programs such as the Kenneth Cole fellowships, which foster understanding between young people and other, often imperiled groups. The Center for Teaching and Curriculum has its roots, Magee said, in the humanities, and since 1952 the Institute for Liberal Arts has been one ofthe country's pioneering centers for interdisciplinary, humanistic research.

"I read reports about the humanities all the time--every one I can get my hands on--to learn about what other universities are doing and to see how our operations at Emory compare," said Martine Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English and CHI director. "I found the AAU report pretty typical of the genre. Nothing in it surprised me, and overall I was very pleased with how Emory's support for and initiatives in the humanities stack up against those at other institutions."

"Since it is our mission to produce future citizens, we see education in the humanities, and in arts and literature, as the duty of a school dedicated to ethical engagement in the world--not a luxury," Paul said. "The humanities never have depended on anything but the largesse of the university; there's no other way to teach them. We have to believe it, and we have to put our money where our mouth is."