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Is A Liberal Arts Education Dead Meat?

There are a lot of folks who are taking aim at the liberal arts. Lately, there’s been quite a lot of attention paid to a recent speech by Bill Gates at the National Governors Association, where he questioned funding liberal arts programs because the area did not produce enough jobs.

For me, this is just a stone’s throw form the sort of thinking that relegates the arts to the periphery for many K-12 students.

It’s always a relief to see a more broad-based viewpoint emerge, in this case stemming from  a bipartisan call from members of the US Senate and House of Representative, which asked the following question:

“What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations,
educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national
excellence in Humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to
achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for
a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy
in the 21st century?”

To help answer the question, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences formed a Commission on The Humanities and Social Sciences.

And, while it’s just a press release at this point, it was refreshing to see the contents of the release, and its all the more reason to be eager for their work to emerge:


Press Releases
Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences
Established by American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Responds to Congressional Mandate

The President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Leslie Berlowitz,
today announced the creation of a national commission to bolster teaching and research
in the humanities and social sciences, fields that are critical to culture, education,
and to America’s economic competitiveness. The Commission on the Humanities and
Social Sciences will be chaired by Richard H. Brodhead, President of Duke
University, and John W. Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Exelon
Corporation, and includes prominent Americans from the humanities, the social sciences,
the physical and life sciences, business, law, philanthropy, the arts, and the media.

The Commission was formed in response to a bipartisan request from United States
Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia)
and Representatives Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) and David Price (D-North
Carolina).

Congress asked the Academy to respond to the following charge:

What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations,
educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national
excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to
achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for
a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy
in the 21st century?

“The humanities and social sciences provide the intellectual framework for the nation’s
economic, political, and governing institutions,” said Commission Co-chair Richard
H. Brodhead
. “They enrich our lives and our understanding. Americans already
appreciate the importance of math and science to our future; this Commission will
remind Americans of the long-term importance of the liberal arts as well.”

Commission Co-chair John W. Rowe added: “Knowledge of history, an understanding
of civic institutions, the ability to use evidence and to think creatively, an aptitude
for cross-cultural communication–these are all vital attributes of a 21st century
citizen.”

“The American Academy, with its long record of stewardship and support for the humanities
and social sciences, is well-suited to lead this effort,” said Academy President
Berlowitz. “Scholarship and education in these disciplines enable our citizens
and our government to adapt to evolving circumstances at home and abroad. They are
critical to our ability to compete in a global economy.”

The findings of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences will
serve as a companion to a forthcoming report of the National Academies on the future
of the research university and ways to strengthen the American scientific enterprise.

“Our nation’s long tradition of research and scholarship in humanities and social
science has been the basis for an informed citizenry that comes from many countries,
races, religions and cultures, but shares a common set of ideals, such as liberty,
equal opportunity, and the rule of law,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, who
previously served as U.S. Secretary of Education and President of the University
of Tennessee. “I am pleased that the American Academy is creating this Commission
to provide recommendations on the best ways to maintain our nation’s excellence
in humanities and social science education, from grade-school history classes to
graduate-level economic research.”

“As our world becomes more interconnected, building a solid foundation in the humanities
is of vital national importance,” Rep. David Price said. “It is the humanities
which ground, inform, and shape our civic, cultural, and intellectual lives. Maintaining
a robust capacity for teaching and research in these fields will help provide a
context and a framework for the most current and urgent policy debates. I look forward
to receiving the commission’s recommendations.”

“To preserve and build on America’s traditions and principles, we must have a firm
understanding of our unique history, culture and heritage,” said Rep. Tom Petri.
“Our humanities and social science institutions help to foster that understanding,
and the results of this report will guide us as we work to strengthen those institutions.”

“I look forward to learning more about how we can further strengthen the arts, humanities,
and social sciences throughout the country,” said Senator Mark Warner. “Understanding
where we are, where we have been, and where we need to go is so important, and I
am pleased that the Academy is tackling this challenge.”

“I look forward to learning more about how we can further strengthen the arts, humanities,
and social sciences throughout the country,” said Senator Mark Warner. “Understanding
where we are, where we have been, and where we need to go is so important, and I
am pleased that the Academy is tackling this challenge.”

The American Academy Commission will draw on past research efforts, data from its

www.humanitiesIndicators.org
, and the experience and expertise of a multidisciplinary
group of national leaders to recommend specific, actionable steps to maintain the
nation’s excellence in the humanities and the social sciences. The Commission will
focus on education, research, and the institutions critical to advancing the humanities
and social sciences in the nation.

The work of the Commission is being funded initially by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Commission expects to complete its work over the next 18 to 24 months. Further
information about the initiative can be found at www.amacad.org.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy
research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging
problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global
security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,300 elected
members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public
affairs from around the world.


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