Dean's Newsletter

Volume 12, Issue 4

A Newsletter for Faculty & Staff in the
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Volume 12, Issue 4

Two articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye recently. In the first, Justin Stover, a former Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford, and Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, wrote an opinion piece with the provocative title “There Is No Case for the Humanities: And Deep Down We All Know It.” Stover’s contention is that the humanities are the “heart of the university” and if humanities scholars ever stopped “researching arcane topics...publishing them in obscure journals...and spent all their time teaching, the university would cease to exist.” However, it does no good, according to Stover, to defend the humanities in the ways we have become accustomed to doing—because, for example, they teach creativity, promote the search for values, help us find truth, or teach valuable skills—all of which (except the last) Stover thinks are easily refuted. No. In an argument to warm the heart of any Oxford don, Stover states that the only justification for the humanities is that they teach courtoisie, “a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices that marks one as a member of a particular class...a community in which [scholars] can share similar tastes in reading, art, food, travel, music, media, and, yes, politics.” Indeed, the foundational meaning of “courtoisie,” a word with roots stretching back to the Middle Ages, essentially refers to the conduct befitting an aristocratic court. For Stover, then, it seems that an education in the humanities is the modern democratic substitute for “good breeding.”

I don’t doubt that there can be something refining in the study of the humanities, and a certain sense of refinement is a good antidote to the creeping vulgarity that currently plagues, for example, our public discourse. But this kind of justification is not likely to win many converts from among working-class students needing to choose a major or from among the hardnosed pragmatists who sometimes sit on university boards or control the state’s purse strings. For them, a more convincing argument might come from the second Chronicle article, “Philanthropic Affections,” which tells the story of Bill Miller and his recent $75 million gift to the Department of Philosophy at John Hopkins University. Miller hopes that the gift will transform the department into one of the best in the world. A highly successful investor, Miller, who began Ph.D. studies in philosophy but never completed the dissertation, explained the role philosophy played in his life. First, he argues that the study of philosophy was personally enriching, intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally. Second, however, Miller argues that the critical thinking and analytical skills he learned as a philosophy student were critical to his success as an investor. “The rigor of philosophy [was] extremely valuable to me in analyzing capital markets, where there are a lot of different opinions, a lot of ambiguity, a lot of uncertainty—the very sort of things you find in philosophical problems.” In other words, for Miller, the humanities, philosophy in particular, teach valuable skills, and his career success proves it.

I obviously don’t share Stover’s opinion that there is no case for the humanities. There are, in fact, even more arguments to be made, and a member of our Visiting Committee, Andrew Kohn, recently brought the following website to my attention: At this site, the National Humanities Alliance offers a “toolbox” that faculty and administrators can use to promote study in the humanities. The site lists, for example, a survey of the valuable skills acquired by such study, a sampling of those contemporary leaders whose success was grounded in the study of the humanities, statistics on the career success of various humanities majors, and, finally, a list of the benefits of the humanities for one’s full life. I will certainly keep this website handy as we continue to make the case that working class and first-generation students (like those at CSU) should have the same opportunities to study the humanities (and the arts and social sciences as well!) that their wealthier peers routinely enjoy at more elite American universities and colleges.

I have been very impressed with the grant-writing successes of our colleagues during this spring semester. I think, for example, that CLASS faculty members have won more internal grants this semester than ever before. I know that publishing lists of winners can be tedious, but I will risk that in order to recognize these genuine faculty accomplishments. Three of our colleagues, for example, have recently won travel support from the Graduate College. These are Michael Baumgartner, Cigdem Slankard, and Jennifer Jeffers. There also was an FRD-Internet of Things Award given to Linda Francis for a project entitled “Putting the Person in the Program: Using Social Science to Tailor a Virtual Training Program to Individual Users.”

In addition, ten FSI grants were awarded to CLASS faculty in areas that span the various subject areas in CLASS. Scholars investigating health related issues, for example, won FSI awards. Cyleste Collins won a $7,467 award for her project entitled “Using Community-Based Doulas to Prevent Infant Mortality Among African American Families,” and Kathryn Olszowy won a $7,500 award for her project entitled “Investigating the Role of Stress-Diet Interactions in the Obesity Disparity between Men and Women in Vulnerable Communities.” History was represented by Mark Souther’s project, “Imagining a New South in Georgia’s Fall Line Cities: Augusta, Macon, and Columbus,” which won a $4,803 FSI award. Literary scholars were also successful.  Jennifer Jeffers, for example, won a $7,500 award for her project “Frances Molloy: The Forgotten Irish Writer.” Annie Jouan-Westlund received a grant of $5,400 for her project entitled “Truth or Fiction: Does It Matter? I. Jablonka’s Historical Investigation.”  And Rachel Carnell also won a $7,500 award for her project “Secret History, Libel, and Impeachment (1710).” Moreover, creative writers were represented. Mike Geither’s project, “Heirloom—A Theatrical Solo Performance,” won a $7,250 award, and Caryl Pagel’s “Free Clean Fill Dirt (Poems)” also received a $6,210 award. Linguistics scholar Antonio Medina-Rivera won a $4,500 award for his investigation into “Spanish and the U.S. Catholic Church.” And, finally, art historian Samantha Baskind won a $5,625 award for her research into “Moses Jacob Ezekiel: The Life of a Confederate, Expatriate, Jewish Sculptor.”

Ten successful applications for Undergraduate Research Awards will help make “engaged learning” a reality for a number of our CLASS students. Kimberly Fuller (Social Work) with colleagues from other colleges won two awards. In the first, they were awarded a $3,945 grant for their project entitled “Understanding Gender Differences in Early Adolescent Decisions to Use Drugs and Alcohol.” In the second, they and their students were awarded $4,914 to complete a project entitled “Sexual Health Information Access for Sexual Minority Individuals.” Anne Berry (Art and Design) and colleagues in Health Sciences and Education will receive $4,490 to work with their students on “PLAAY on the Move: An Inter-professional Utilization of Technology to Optimize Engagement of Children with Special Needs within the Community.” Also in the Department of Art and Design, Qian Li and her students will receive $4,536 to complete their project entitled “Safe Bubble Animation.” Carol Olszewski (Music Therapy) and her students were granted $3,537 to work on a project called “RAS Expanded: Visual and Tactile Cueing with Individuals with Gait Disorder.” Shelley Rose and Mark Souther (History) were awarded $4,725 to work with their students on a project entitled “Out of the Archive and Into the Classroom: Oral History Resources for Education.” Meghan Novisky (Criminology) won $3,780 to complete “The Role of Violence Exposure and Medical Neglect During Incarceration on Reentry” with her students. In World Languages, Antonio Medina-Rivera and his students will work on a project entitled “Spanish in Contact with Quechua,” funded by a Summer Undergraduate Research grant of $4,400. Joel Lieske (Political Science) was awarded $4,914 to work with his students on “Researching the Effects of Diversity on American Government and Politics.” Finally, Phil Wanyerka (Anthropology) will continue his tradition of providing summer archaeological digs for his students, and this year’s project, “Archaeological Investigations at the Fort Hill Earthwork Complex,” will be supported by a grant of $4,300.

Congratulations to all these grant recipients! A quick review of these various awards suggests the depth and breadth of summer research conducted in our college, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is certainly much more important summer research that is conducted without funding.

Finally, I want to recognize the contributions of Maureen (Reenie) Pruitt, a Lecturer in our Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, who passed away unexpectedly on March 19, 2018. Since 2006, Ms. Pruitt had a full-time faculty position at CSU, teaching Spanish language courses as well as courses in both Medical Spanish and Business Spanish. In addition, she led a study abroad tour to Costa Rica. I knew her as a positive and energetic presence in the college, and she will certainly be missed.

As there is much more to report, I hope to be sending you another “CLASS Directions” before everyone leaves for the summer. In the meantime, I hope that you are able to negotiate the end-of-semester demands with good cheer and not too much exhaustion!