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ASU, Arizona foster appreciation for arts and humanities

November 19, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State football will take on the University of Arizona at 8 p.m., Nov. 23, in Tucson. Learn more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

On the heels of President Obama’s re-election, the United States is turning its attention back to a number of national issues that still require addressing – perhaps the most pressing of which is the current state of the economy. Throughout his presidency and campaign, Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of higher education – specifically in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields – as essential to producing the type of intelligent, well-informed citizens who are equipped with the skills needed to move our country forward by excelling and making breakthroughs in those fields.  

However, in a recent op-ed piece by ASU professor Neal Lester, Lester argues that focusing solely on the STEM fields as a means of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure may be a bit myopic.

“I am not fully convinced ... that our successes in the world depend solely on global competition where science, business and technology lead the way,” says Lester, who serves as director of ASU’s Project Humanities, a university-wide initiative he began in 2010 with the goal to demonstrate how the humanities contribute to and interact with other areas of scholarship and research.

And it would appear Lester is not alone in his assertion of the importance of humanities in higher education. In-state rival and fellow Pac-12 school University of Arizona recently was recognized in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for their excellent arts and humanities programs. The university placed 98th among institutions around the world, 51st among those in North America, and 46th among those in the United States.

Jory Hancock, dean of UA’s College of Fine Arts, believes it is a university’s responsibility to promote and encourage both the STEM and creative fields. “Our equivalent of the UA's research mission is creative activity,” he said.

While ASU reaches out to the community outside the university with its Project Humanities initiative, UA offers Humanities Seminars, a selection of courses in letters, arts and sciences that are available to any interested adult in the Greater Tucson community.

In August of this year, Lester partnered with Julie Voller, director of academic advising in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to create a workshop for academic advisors designed specifically to increase their understanding of the value of humanities courses and degrees.

“Reaching out to the academic advisors ensures that students, in turn, will understand the importance of humanities general studies requirements and humanities courses in preparing students for their lives beyond graduation,” said Voller.

Lester stresses that the value of an education in the humanities exceeds simply obtaining a degree to find a job.

“Jobs can make us better citizens, but jobs need not and cannot define us as individuals or be the only measure of our individual and collective successes,” Lester says. “In matters of success and progress, humanities and arts matter.”