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Topic: Who Needs The Humanities at Start-Up U?
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
Who Needs The Humanities at Start-Up U?
Posted: Dec 11, 2012 6:38 PM
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From Stanford Magazine [A publication of the
Stanford Alumni Association], November-December
2012, pp. 46 - 53. See
Who Needs The Humanities at Start-Up U?

Stanford says everyone does, and wants to convince the world.

By Mike Antonucci

Freshman Saya Jenks comes from nearby Menlo Park,
but she admits to having initially misjudged
Stanford when weighing college choices. She had
the Farm pegged as an imperfect place for someone
with her interests, which start with theater.
When two friends who were a year ahead of her in
high school picked the University for its
humanities programs, her main reaction was
skepticism. "I thought it was such an engineering
school," Jenks says. Then came the revelations.

First, she signed up for a live audition in drama
as an arts supplement to her application and
landed in front of Dan Klein, '90, who teaches
improvisation in the drama department as well as
holding classes and workshops at the Graduate
School of Business and the Not only was
that one session "the most fun I've ever had at
an audition," notes Jenks, it was a conversion
experience. "What Klein showed me is people
bringing all kinds of knowledge to the humanities
and arts, and it made me think about exploring
interests that I might not even know I've got."
Jenks felt some bonus gusto when she saw the
Stanford Drama and Blackstage Theater Company
production of The Color Purple and "was just
blown away."

benefit for young people searching to understand
themselves.' -- Debra Satz, Senior Associate Dean
for the Humanities and Arts. Photo: Glenn

Other freshmen tell similar stories about having
to overcome the impression that Stanford is where
you go if you like software better than seminars.
That's understandable, when media reports
regularly underscore Stanford's image as a
technological Eden for geeks and entrepreneurs
spawning start-ups in dorm rooms. For Debra Satz,
senior associate dean for the humanities and
arts, it amounts to typecasting Stanford as "the
MIT of the West"-regardless of the Farm's No. 1
spot in Times Higher Education's 2011-12 World
University Rankings of arts and humanities

The number of students majoring in Stanford's
humanities departments has declined by at least
25 percent in the past two decades. English and
history, among the five most popular majors not
so many years ago, have been eclipsed by computer
science, human biology, engineering and
economics. Only 10 to 18 percent of the
University's undergraduate applicants indicate a
primary interest in the humanities. And while 43
to 45 percent of the School of Humanities and
Sciences faculty are devoted to the humanities,
some courses top out at five students-or fewer.

"So many students are not engaging significantly
with what the humanities have to offer, except in
a purely instrumental way-choosing the classes
that get the general education requirements out
of the way and fit into their schedule, which is
determined by their other interests," Satz says.
And that's a problem. "Studying the
humanities-deeply engaging with other societies,
with other ways of seeing and ways of doing-is
important for living in a globalized world. If
the humanities become marginal in our
undergraduate education, then an important tool
we have for understanding the lives of others
will be lost."

At the same time, Stanford can't ignore the
pressures of a wider national context in which
students make their choices. In this era of
anxiety about graduates finding jobs, the
humanities are the subject of an intense debate
about relevance and value. In short, humanities
majors are suspected of having no "real" or
marketable skills. While that notion is given
little credence at Stanford, the stigma it can
generate is taken seriously. If nothing else, the
denigration of the humanities as cloistered or
pretentious plays havoc with students' psyches.
Add to that a nationwide push to promote science,
technology, engineering and mathematics as the
key to America's future well-being-along with
buzz about resurgent prospects in the tech
sector-and humanities can be a tough sell.

humanities departments at Stanford: Classics,
Philosophy, East Asian Languages and Cultures,
Music, Religious Studies, History, Division of
Literature, Cultures and Languages, English, Art
and Art History, Linguistics, Theater and
Performance Studies

THE RESPONSE of Stanford philosophers, historians
and literary scholars has been to saddle up and
ride into the fray. The University has launched a
number of initiatives to highlight what the
humanities offer in both pragmatic and
inspirational ways, to strengthen the preparation
they provide for careers beyond academia and,
ultimately, to position Stanford as a leader in
the humanities debates to come.

One innovation begun this year is the Stanford
Summer Humanities Institute, which recruited 50
high school students from around the country and
beyond for three weeks of university-level
coursework. For Stanford, it was an opportunity
to showcase compelling lecturers, powerful topics
and the campus itself-an experience aimed at
shouting, Hello, this is such a different place
than you thought it was. The ultimate success of
humanities "camp" may not be clear for several
years, but Dan Edelstein, an associate professor
of French and by courtesy history and one of the
two faculty lecturers, says he encountered
students who embraced the work so avidly that
"they wildly surpassed all of our expectations."

Behind that payoff was extensive planning.
Recruitment letters went out to carefully
targeted high schoolers across the nation. Satz,
a philosophy professor, composed a separate
letter for 500 New York students who might think
of Stanford as another planet, essentially saying
she had been "a kid from the New York City public
schools who got here and actually liked it." The
institute was fee-based but offered significant
financial aid, and it was organized with the help
of Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies.

SIDEBAR: Recruits: Jenks (right) and students in
the summer course taught by Edelstein (above,
standing) grew avid about Stanford humanities,
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Dan Edelstein, Associate Professor
of French and by courtesy History

Satz says the commitment made by Edelstein and
history professor Caroline Winterer was
particularly notable. "What's unusual," she
explains, "is that we had faculty teaching these
sessions, not grad students or adjuncts. . . .
Two fantastic teaching faculty."

The inaugural institute had two classes,
Edelstein's Revolutions and Winterer's The Age of
Jefferson. "I think next year we'll expand," says
Satz. "I want to have a philosophy class. I think
philosophy has a natural constituency, because
it's not offered in high school and a lot of
students really want to do something like that."

For enrolled students, Satz is working to
establish a more deliberate curricular framework.
"Students don't often know what's an intro-level
course and what isn't," she observes, in
comparison to non-humanities departments with
sequential courses along the lines of Science 31,
then 32, then 33. "There's a narrative arc. The
humanities kind of gave that up at some point.
It's a little bit of the '60s-it's like you could
enter anywhere and take anything and there's no
order. And so the students feel like, oh, that
just shows there's no knowledge."

To remedy that, humanities departments are
devising introductory courses. Also in the
pipeline is promotional material to give
undergrads a capsule view of what different
humanities disciplines are all about, in method
and wisdom. The upshot, Satz hopes, will be a
better articulation of humanities scholarship and
a way to address such questions as, "What has
philosophy produced that's worth knowing?"

Administrators also recognize the need to adapt
to evolving technologies and expectations. The
humanities weren't represented in the 16 free
online courses announced by Stanford for the
fall, so Dean of Humanities and Sciences Richard
Saller says he'll encourage some of his faculty
members to participate. He acknowledges that it's
unclear how professors can incorporate and assess
the written, oral and visual work of humanities
subjects as part of a massively enrolled course.
Even so, he insists, "We need to take some
initiative for online education."

Colin Milburn, '98, MA '99, is the founding
director of the Humanities Innovation Lab at
UC-Davis and credits Stanford with the right kind
of institutional mindset. "Stanford has been at
the forefront of discussions about the future of
the humanities for a long time now, in terms of
curriculum as well as research," he says, adding
that the University's "extraordinary capacities"
in individual disciplines underlie such
interdisciplinary innovations as environmental
humanities, cultural studies of science and
technology, and the digital humanities.

"Recently, I've been seeing amazing things happen
when humanists work together with social
scientists, natural scientists and engineers,
each bringing unique resources and tools to the
table . . . in order to solve shared problems,"
Milburn says. "This seems a very promising trend
to me, and Stanford has certainly been playing a
prominent role here."

One upside to whatever Stanford humanities take
on is the core stability of their operations.
Donor support and faculty recruitment have been
strong, notes Saller, buttressed by the Arts
Initiative and new buildings that include the
Bing Concert Hall.

PHOTO SIDEBAR: 'WE CLEARLY have a lot to do in
the way of building the perception of our
reputation in this area.' -- Richard Saller, Dean
of Humanities and Sciences. PHOTO: Glenn Matsumura

As for turning around the perception that
Stanford is mainly for techies, "I feel justified
hope," Saller says.

Certainly, Stanford has been a base for
high-profile advocates for the humanities. For
example, a September forum on campus made a
vigorous case for the significant role of the
humanities in national defense and international
policy. The discussion, organized by the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and led by Stanford
President John Hennessy, featured numerous
accounts of how humanities-honed skills can help
shape world events.

Political science professor and former U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed the
way humanities and social sciences cultivate
people's writing abilities: "Those of us who have
been, for instance, in government-where a lot of
my students want to end up-know that the well
argued, well written two-pager [put] before the
secretary of defense or the secretary of state
can actually make a difference, let alone one
before the president of the United States. It can
make a difference in decision making."

Other participants included Hoover Institution
senior fellow William J. Perry, '49, MS '50, a
former U.S. secretary of defense, and Hoover
distinguished fellow George P. Shultz, whose four
different U.S. cabinet posts included secretary
of state. Marine Sgt. William Treseder, '11, who
has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that in
many difficult situations a young platoon
leader's education in subjects such as foreign
languages or history-"just something that lets
them understand another person's perspective"-can
end up being "absolutely crucial."

At that event, an appreciation for the humanities
seemed fundamental to Stanford's DNA-as if the
University is such a humanities school. But
outside similar forums and lectures, there's
often a much different perception. The
alternative view, Stanford as technopolis, is
easily delineated by a standard 21st-century
guidepost: the search engine.

Indeed, Saller recalls that in 2010 he Googled
"Harvard humanities," "Yale humanities,"
"Stanford humanities," and got 4 million sites
for Harvard; 3 million for Yale and; 300,000 for
Stanford. For "Stanford engineering," it was 25
million. "So there is a huge, order-of-magnitude
gap between reputations if you just use that as a
rough yardstick. We clearly have a lot to do in
the way of building the perception of our
reputation in this area. But that's a hard thing
to do. University reputations have notorious
inertia associated with them."

Dogged, incremental effort is essential to
long-term progress but includes an occasional
exciting triumph. A case in point is the return
to Stanford this fall of art and art history
professor Alexander Nemerov, who taught at
Stanford for nine years before going to Yale in
2001. When the Yale Daily News reported his
hiring by Stanford in February, it pointed out
that his introductory course on the history of
art was the hottest of the semester, capped at
270 students but with interest indicated by
nearly 500.

"It's just really telling," notes Saller, for
Nemerov "to move back from Yale, which is thought
to be the bastion of the humanities."

traveled these days is the path for humanities
majors. But as Stanford's faculty so passionately
insist, it can lead to any number of careers. And
along the way, it's increasingly easy for people
from different disciplines to cross back and
forth, intersecting in their courses, research
and internships.

Underlying almost every aspect of Stanford's
humanities conversation is a tense duality: A
college education is not supposed to be job
preparation, but it's understandable to worry
that it isn't. "I want students to pick the
things they love to do," says Kirsti Copeland,
the director of residentially based advising.
"And in order to do that comfortably, they need
to feel like that isn't a dead end."

Satz is one among many who have been pounding
home that point. "You can major in French and
still have a completely different career," she
argues. Central to her case is that a bachelor's
degree from the humanities doesn't have to be-and
for most Stanford students probably isn't-a
concluding degree. Take classics or linguistics
or music, then consider business school, law
school or med school. "The humanities are a
foundation for anything."

The benefits Satz is most eloquent in championing
range from individual blooms, like confidence and
creativity, to a societal flowering. "The
humanities are of special benefit for young
people searching to understand themselves. They
expose us to the ideas and practices central to
our own society as well as to alternative ideas
within our society and without. And they provide
the vocabulary for posing the big questions about
truth, justice, responsibility, beauty, among
others that should be a core part of a university

so expensive that others can't meet it, we're
going to drive them out of the business.' --
Russell Berman, Professor of German Studies and
Comparative Literature. PHOTO: Glenn Matsumura
PHOTO SIDEBAR: MAKING A CASE: Doctoral candidate
Katie Hume (left) prepares to meet Silicon Valley
leaders; Rice (Condoleezza) affirms the value of
humanities in government.

in the national humanities context is the anxiety
felt by graduate students. As the humanities
elsewhere face increasing pressure to justify
their expense versus science and technology
programs, the number of jobs opening for newly
minted professors is scant. People spend their
20s immersed in unique or specialized research
studies and it leads to-where? Russell Berman,
professor of German studies and comparative
literature, has become a national voice for an
intrepid remedy: reformulating the route to a
humanities PhD.

"Last I looked," says Berman, "the time to degree
for a PhD in literature-it's slightly different
for English and the foreign languages-nationally
is nine years. . . . We should cut that in half
nationally. I think five years is absolutely
doable. Four years is not unthinkable."

The stipends, tuition waivers, fellowships and
grants for graduate programs are backed by
Stanford's overall financial strength. But Berman
is passionate in warning about the possible
downside of the University's strong position.

"Not everybody," he says, "can afford what
Stanford or Princeton or Harvard can afford. And
if we set a standard that is so expensive that
others can't meet it, we're going to drive them
out of the business. And then we'll just be a
small, elite group with no democratic access to
advanced study in the humanities. . . . Stanford
should alternatively lead toward a reform agenda
that keeps the humanities accessible and
affordable nationwide."

Berman's message, part of a proposal he wrote
with five colleagues, has yet to elicit a
PhD-revision plan from any individual department.
But Saller says more discussion is to come. And,
Berman's group has a second angle to their
recommendations: revamping the humanities PhD "as
preparation for multiple career tracks, not
exclusively the reproduction of the

Recognizing that those with humanities doctorates
can and do move capably into nonacademic jobs,
says Berman, should also mean enhancing the
process. Visiting speakers should include PhD
holders who transitioned into industry or
commerce. Internships should be arranged in
diverse enterprises. Curricula should be
bolstered with practical knowledge from fields
such as publishing, film and journalism. "Right
now," Berman says, graduate students exit
academia for other professions "by the seat of
their pants." It's time "to recognize that it's a
good thing they do that and therefore integrate
that back into our teaching."

Putting brain to grindstone in this arena is
Anaïs Saint-Jude, founder and director of the
BiblioTech program at Stanford that's dedicated
to expanding the range of opportunities for PhDs.
Saint-Jude, MA '03, PhD '11, kick-started her
initiative in May 2011, while still a grad
student in French literature. She led the first
of now annual conferences that serve as formal
mixers for humanities scholars and Silicon Valley
executives. She has funding from a variety of
University offices, including the president's,
and her mission is persuasion: convincing
businesses that people with PhDs make strong

"I have to say it's still slow," she notes. "In
large, stratified organizations particularly,
they still find it a challenge to see where a PhD
in humanities fits in. But we have to be
undaunted." She more than understands the
tensions on the students' side-she has been
there. "Unfortunately, humanities PhD students do
have to wrestle with substantial amounts of
stress, knowing they are preparing for jobs that
may not exist or may not be what they imagined."

Saint-Jude has three primary goals for the next
year: bolster the BiblioTech website by
highlighting individual success stories;
establish a set of internships with local
companies; and coordinate networking events and
workshops with the Humanities Center and other
University units.

On another front, English professor Jennifer
Summit, one of Berman's co-authors on the
PhD-revision proposal, has been supervising a
journalism project for humanities graduate
students. Students can get paid to write about
humanities research for Stanford's News Service
and its Human Experience website. The practice in
writing for a mass audience instead of
specialized fellow scholars can be eye-opening,
and the attention created for interesting
research is a plus.

Another initiative at a very incipient stage is
an effort by Satz to partner with the School of
Education to provide a path for someone obtaining
a humanities PhD to earn a teaching credential.

PHOTO SIDEBAR: Jennifer Summit, Professor of English. PHOTO: Glenn Matsumur

"The humanities have always been about education
as a powerful agent of change?-true to their
roots in the Renaissance, which made teaching and
learning the foundation of civil society," Summit
says. "So it's appropriate that they continue to
shape higher education of the future, especially
given the central role that humanities
skills-like communication and critical, informed
discussion-will play in our changing world."

STANFORD'S ARTS INITIATIVE is expected to be a
lure for students from the full range of
humanities interests. Its signature components
are new performance and art facilities: the Bing
Concert Hall, which opens in January; the
Anderson Collection building, scheduled to open
in 2014; and the McMurtry Building for the
department of art and art history, projected for
completion in 2015. But the project is not just a
niche of riches for art and music majors; its
appeal is presumed to transcend disciplinary
categories and kindle collaborations from every
corner of the University.

One clear signal that's being sent, comments
Stephen Hinton, the initiative's director and
Satz's predecessor as senior associate dean for
the humanities and arts, is how committed and
serious the University is about the breadth and
passion of its intellectual life. He's sure
applicants will notice. "The English major is not
just interested in going to a good English
department, but in going to a place that is
clearly the best at humanities more broadly."

Gaining a sense of Stanford's scope is just as
important for many students as tapping into the
strength of a particular program. It was the
multidisciplinary talents of drama instructor Dan
Klein that impressed freshman Saya Jenks, and it
is Stanford's interdisciplinary strength that
UC-Davis's Milburn sees as crucial. Navigating
options is part of the educational challenge.

Elias Rodriques, sometimes "a trepidatious guy,"
went through most of his freshman year mulling a
major in physics instead of English. But he
decided on English and now, as a senior, he tells
the kinds of anecdotes about great teachers and
personal growth that exemplify the ideal
undergraduate experience described by Saller and

Rodriques is uncertain what he's going to do
after graduation, and he's not immune from
fretfulness about whether he has used his four
years to best advantage. "Having said that," he
continues, "I think it made me a lot happier, a
lot more intellectually satisfied. Being an
English major provided me with both those things."

It's the perfect graduating declaration, at least
to those immersed in enhancing Stanford's image
as a humanities haven. It's not easy landing
humanities majors, but that seems to be because
they don't know what they're missing.

"After we get them," says Satz, "we don't lose them."

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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