Remarks for the reception launching the latest edition of the student research journal Explorations on Nov. 14, 2013
Thank you very much for inviting me to be here today and say a few words about the humanities. As many people know, there has been a pretty fierce debate going on about the role of the humanities in higher education. Articles have appeared recently in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education about the so-called crisis in the humanities. Last night, I had dinner with Marianne Hirsch, the current president of the Modern Languages Association — she was our invited guest for the Buttrill Ethics Lecture at the Glasscock Center yesterday. She, like many of us in academia, is unhappy with the framing of this debate as a “crisis.” The humanities are alive and thriving at Texas A&M — our majors are holding steady and our graduates are going on to successful careers both inside and outside of academia. What is at stake is the perception of the humanities in current debates.
David A. Hollinger, who wrote the most recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is right to point out that there is a wedge being driven between what he calls the human sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. This wedge, however, is in many cases an artificial one. Instead of opposing forces, the humanities and the natural, or what many call the “hard” sciences ought to view themselves as two sides of the same coin. Research in the humanities leads the way in risk-taking critical thinking about issues that both drive and surface as part of the methodological and measurable research being done in the STEM disciplines. We are not and should not be seen as mutually exclusive or antagonistic domains of inquiry. In fact, we should be collaborative. These two sides of the coin serve society in equally important ways: quantitatively and qualitatively. This is why publications like Explorations are so important.
This is the mission of the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research — to foster cross-disciplinary research among the community of scholars at Texas A&M and the world beyond the academy. We support research that advances knowledge through investigation, inquiry and interpretation of human experience. In fact, the program that I am the most proud of at the center is the collaborative initiative between Honors and Undergraduate Research and the Glasscock Center that we began two years ago. The Glasscock Summer Scholars program pairs a senior faculty member with a small cohort of 3-5 undergraduate students to conduct a research project in the humanities. Students are immersed in a two-week intensive course with faculty members and then work in writing studios in consultation with the Writing Center and their faculty mentors to develop a thesis proposal over the remaining eight weeks. This proposal becomes the basis for a year-long thesis project carried out under the Honors Undergraduate Research Program. Professors Datta, MacKenzie and I wanted to know what a “lab” might look like on the humanities side for undergraduate research, so we set up an office at the Glasscock Center, obtained computers, brought in Valerie Balester from the Writing Center and incredible faculty mentors and set up research bursaries for students. We have had four successful sessions with topics in classics, English, philosophy and international studies. Our students are publishing pieces in Explorations, applying for graduate school and working at places like think-tanks, as a result of this high-impact research — they are engaged in the kind of deep learning that promotes critical inquiry and great writing skills. These are the keys to a successful democratic society and the goal of great public education. They are the skills that help students adapt to the changing models of a global world in both academic and non-academic jobs. I am happy to report that Dean Bermúdez has just invested in our “humanities labs,” and we are now going to be able to double the number of Summer Scholars programs offered this summer. We are looking forward to many more students being able to submit articles and creative writing pieces to Explorations in the future and are grateful for this collaboration with Honors and Undergraduate Research. Thank you very much.