Humanities programs illuminate university innovation
As ASU emerges as a comprehensive knowledge enterprise committed to discovery, creativity and innovation, the humanities are playing a vital role in that mission.
“No university can achieve greatness without a strong core in the humanities,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “You need the study of languages, culture, clarity of expression, philosophy, religions and history in order to create a literate citizen.
“Consistent with the vision of the research university as a catalyst for societal transformation, ASU favors a research enterprise dedicated to societal relevance and socially optimal outcomes of research,” Crow adds. “We seek to understand the broadest possible spectrum of human knowledge in order to advance it, and our growing strengths in the humanities complement our unsurpassed scientific and technological teaching and research.”
ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi says the humanities play a crucial role in ASU’s curriculum.
“The humanities give all our graduates the background and sensibility to interpret and deal with change, including the scientific and technological changes that at the moment get so much attention,” says Capaldi.
As ASU pursues a problem-based curriculum, it is important “to remember the human dimension,” stresses Deborah Losse, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“Inquiry, culture, religion, history, language – all of these things inform how we approach medicine, science and politics,” Losse says. “As we’re developing new schools, we’re looking for ways to integrate not only threads of those different disciplines, but also methodology, so that a school, such as the School of International Letters and Cultures, looks at, say films or media, across cultures, from a cultural perspective, a films studies perspective, a historic perspective, and a historical religious perspective.”
The School of International Letters and Cultures, which was established this past July, is just one of the milestones that exemplifies ASU’s expanded commitment and investment in the humanities in recent years.
“With more than 20 language specialization areas, nine undergraduate degree programs, six certificate programs, four master’s degree programs and a doctorate in Spanish, it is the first transformative school at ASU rooted in the humanities,” says Robert Joe Cutter, founding director of the school and a leading scholar of premodern Chinese literature and cultural history.
“There is no academic activity, none, that better prepares students for life in today’s world than the study of other languages and cultures,” Cutter says. “Pick up any newspaper or any magazine on any day of the year, and what immediately strikes you is how interconnected the world has become.”
That global connection and ASU’s serious investment in the humanities is also evident in the focus of its new research centers and institutes. Some of those established since 2002 include:
• ASU-Sichuan University Joint Confucius Institute, promoting Chinese language and culture studies in elementary and secondary schools, and to the general public in Arizona.
• Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, providing global and international opportunities for students in ASU’s master of fine arts in creative writing program.
• Institute for Humanities Research, providing a gateway for collaboration among scholars whose research addresses the world’s social, cultural, technological and scientific challenges through a humanities lens.
• Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, promoting interdisciplinary research and education on the dynamics of religion and conflict with the aim of advancing knowledge, seeking solutions and informing policy.
In addition to new schools, centers and institutes, the university is investing in the hiring of more faculty in the department of English – to expand areas of strength, including medieval and renaissance studies, and also to improve student success and retention by limiting the number of students in first-year writing classes to 19.
“We have a plan to double the number of English faculty over three years, and we’re halfway there,” says Neal Lester, chair of the department of English. By keeping first-year writing classes to 19 students, “we’re looking to significantly increase student retention, student satisfaction and the quality of instruction, giving faculty more time to spend with individual students on their writing.”
Whether it’s lowering class size for first-year writing classes on campus or teaching Chinese to Arizona elementary students, Losse concludes that “the humanities at ASU will have a tremendous impact felt locally and internationally.”