TIMOTHY MURRAY: Thanks for coming out on such a beautiful day. It's kind of a wonderful treat to have Don Randel bring us the sunshine finally with no rain whatsoever. I think we're all dry. The Society for the Humanities is very pleased to host today's visit and lecture by Don Randel, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
And we thank Don for his generosity in delivering today's lecture as well as for meeting earlier today with our Society of Fellows. We had a very productive luncheon meeting. I hope you'll also all join us at the AD White House, following the lecture, for a public reception in Don's honor.
If you don't already know, we hope you do know. It's up on top of the Hill. And I want to quickly open by briefly thanking on behalf of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University, and especially the Society for the Humanities the Mellon Foundation for its steadfast stewardship of the humanities and particularly for its support of many of our most important programs at the Society.
The Mellon, over the years, has been one of our steadfast supporters, in particular, of the number of programs the very, very long-term Mellon post-doctoral fellowships, which were begun in the '70s as a way of saving my generation from a stalled job market. And the Mellon has now launched a new project with ACLS, the ACLS New Faculty's fellows, that is doing the same thing. And we'll be hosting two of those fellows at Cornell next year in Classics and in Music. And we're very happy about that.
In addition, Mellon supports are to Society of Mellon Graduate Fellowships. And it supports the deBary Interdisciplinary Mellon Writing Groups. And on a wider scale, Mellon provides us very, very important support for the Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, which is a collaborative research network between the universities of Syracuse, Rochester, and Cornell for which the Society for the Humanities is the administrative home.
I'm very grateful to President David Skorton for agreeing to introduce this afternoon's lecturer. David's public support for the Humanities has been very, very important for us at Cornell. And just as has been his national leadership in support of the liberal arts, and as well-- as I understand-- his agreement to take a very, very national, visible role in supporting the continued funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities. David, thank you very much.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks for such a wonderful turnout for such a wonderful man. We're so, so glad to have you here. And we've never needed the combination of strength and tenacity, that you've shown over the decades, and the new leadership at the National Endowment at a time of such austerity and such concerns. We're really thrilled to have you here.
One thing, you hate to differ with the boss of the Society. But I don't think his coming has much to do with the weather. But that's just a theory.
Just a theory. I'm going to be able to skip a couple of my 3" by 5" cards. Because Tim already enumerated much of the support that Mellon has given to this institution. And I'm going to talk a little bit about Don and a little tiny bit about the Humanities.
Don had 32 years at this University. And although he moved on before I came here, I've long been an admirer of yours. My second favorite book is the Harvard Dictionary of Music.
And that's true. And my first favorite book will, the details will remain between me and my conscience.
But that's way up there. Because I do read a lot of books. Tim his has recounted some of the support locally.
And there's really two aspects of the operation of the Mellon Foundation under Don, and Harriet Zuckerman, and others that have been exemplary. One is an uncanny ability to focus initiatives where the academic community needs them. And secondly, to keep the awards appropriately competitive and have a tough-minded attitude so that the highest quality rises to the top.
You probably can't hear me completely. Because the mike just went out. But I'm saying a lot of nice stuff about Don. You could just imagine what I'm saying.
I do want to mention that in addition to the Society for the Humanities and to the College of Arts and Sciences that contributions Mellon has made to the libraries are very, very important. It's an area of enormous concern, to all of us, and enormous importance. And also, if my information is right, the Graduate School here as well has directly received Mellon's support separate from the Society for the Humanities and the College itself.
In addition to the support that Tim mentioned, it's also interesting. And when I looked over the Mellon support in preparing the remarks, I was surprised to find out that the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, in ILR, has also been a long-term recipient of support. But let's talk about Don.
No one could be better suited to head a Mellon foundation, especially in a time like this-- but in any time-- than Don Randel. Before assuming his presidency in 2006, he served for six years, as many of you know, as president of the University of Chicago and strengthen the Physical and the Biomedical Sciences there.
And friends of mine in the medical school and those working with Oregon were constantly singing your praises about the way that you strengthen those disciplines but, of course, remained as a champion of both the humanities and the performing arts at that excellent institution. In 2005, the year before he was named to the presidency of Mellon, Don was one of three university presidents nationally to receive a $500,000 Academic Leadership Award from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
That's not something you apply for. That's something that you are asked to accept because of a long, long record of excellence in leadership, which Don certainly exemplifies. He began his career, as many of know, with a love of music, earned a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate at Princeton, and as a musicologist specialized in the music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe, especially Spain and France.
Over the course of a very distinguished career, he edited the Journal of the American Musicological Society as well as three reference books. The one I mentioned, the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, which is really only marred by not having my biography in it-- but those kind of things can happen-- and the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Don came to Cornell as an assistant professor in 1968 and rose through the ranks, as the saying goes, eventually being name the Given Foundation Professor of Musicology in 1990, and held a variety of administrative posts-- department head, vice provost, associate dean, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences-- a very, very big job-- and, in 1995, became provost of Cornell, a position he held for five years until he was offered the presidency at the University of Chicago.
As provost-- looking over the enviable record-- among other things, Don developed the Cornell Research Scholars Program, and strengthened the biological sciences, but also remained devoted to music and the arts and humanities as essential elements in higher education. Today, Don is more effective than ever.
And as I mentioned at the very beginning of these remarks, one of two people-- the other being Jim Leach at the National Endowment for the Humanities-- who I'm very confident are going to keep all of our eye on one of the most important parts of academia and Americana. Join me in welcoming our gem, Don Randel.
DON RANDEL: Thank you. Thank you. Happy. My only claim on your attention is my very deep affection for this institution. And I'm grateful for you all.
Turning Up, you can imagine the sort of thing you hear on NPR every morning. You know, NPR receives support and such. You never hear the Mellon Foundation there.
But maybe we should have one that goes, spring is brought to you by the A.W. Mellon Foundation.
"Working every day to make life better and better." [CHUCKLES]
I begin with JL Austin and a brief inquiry into speech act theory. Now before half of you get up and walk out, and before Dominick LaCapra can finish formulating his very penetrating question on this topic--
--let me say simply that the meaning of my title depends a great deal on how I perform it, and in so doing, do something to the humanities by situating them in one or another hierarchy. If I say, "How about the humanities?" rather than the way I might say, "How about the Cornell basketball team?", I express positive amazement at their awesome and mighty power.
But if I say, "How about the humanities?", it sounds a bit as if I've just gone down a list from which the humanities have been left out. That could even prompt the response, "How about the humanities?", as if to say the humanities do not deserve to be on that list in the first place.
This can lead to another performance which goes, sort of in whining mode, how about the humanities? We should all now hold hands and repeat as many times as it takes, I will not whine about the humanities. I might also suggest that we declare a moratorium on the use of the phrase "the crisis in the humanities".
There are too many other real crises to go around. Take, for example, the nation's political life. But what about the humanities? The question is about the proper place of the humanities, and I would add the arts, in the life of a university as it might hope to exemplify their proper place in society at large.
This raises more questions on what criteria will we determine the value of the humanities. What is the goal of the humanities? What are the humanities anyway?
In the current economic turmoil, more or less everything is likely to be valued in terms of money. This, however, is not a new phenomenon. The nation has a long tradition of valuing and investing primarily in those aspects of its intellectual life that contribute to the Gross Domestic Product, or the National Defense, or preferably both.
The nation's also been willing to spend money on curing disease mostly so as to put off death as long as possible, as-- for example-- by doubling the budget of the NIH, but not necessarily on making those cures available to all citizens, and certainly without thinking about why one might want to live longer in the first place. The current economic stress simply brings to the fore, evermore forcefully, the wish to justify everything in instrumental terms.
In the world of higher education, where budgets must be cut, the temptation is to value those activities that are thought to enhance revenue or at least minimize loss. Students and their parents are also likely to be making the argument for higher education in instrumental terms and, thus, choosing among institutions and fields of study according to the likelihood that any one of them might lead to a job with a good salary and long-term prospects.
As Archie Ammons put it in a poem that begins, "I can tell you what I need is money, not piddling amounts," he says, "but shoals of seminal coin."
Students and parents in pursuit of a job, no matter what job, should be reminded of the words of another great writer, George Eliot. In Silas Marner, she writes quote, "Every man's work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life."
Of Silas' life and the lesson that might be drawn from it, she writes, "His life had reduced itself to the functions of weaving and hoarding without any contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended. The same sort of process has, perhaps, been undergone by wiser men when they have been cut off from faith and love. Only instead of a loom and a heap of guineas, they have had some erudite research, some ingenious project, or some well-knit theory."
Even university professors might reread these lines once in a while. It is not surprising, then, that the remedy to the current state of affairs of the humanities has lately seemed to take an instrumental turn. To be sure, one still hears echoes of the traditional view that the humanities are ends in themselves.
But Stan Katz, for example, remarks quote, "The more important point is that the humanities community has not developed the plausible case for enhanced public support." He goes on, "If we are to make our case to the nation, the community has to articulate its goals and capacities much more clearly than it has done thus far."
Andrew Delbanco refers to the traditional view but goes on to say, I quote, "There's a certain prideful purity in such a view. But if educators hope for renewed public trust in the value of liberal as opposed to practical or vocational education, we have to come to terms with the utility question one way or another."
The topic even made it onto the front page of the "Arts" section of the New York Times last year where an article, largely stimulated by Delbanco's piece, was headlined "In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth". There are, of course, very powerful instrumental arguments for investing in the humanities and the arts. The arts have been somewhat better at advancing these than the humanities.
And this has even occasioned unfortunate expressions of envy as when the National Endowment for the Arts received additional funding from the federal stimulus effort. But the National Endowment for the Humanities did not. This was, to be sure, another sign in the system. But we should not be distracted by the allocation of such pathetic sums.
We should all be happy if the budgets of both Endowments were to be doubled. But since the budget of each is only about $150 million, a major part of which must be spread across 435 congressional districts, a doubling would still not make much of a dent in what troubles us about the nation's intellectual life. For comparative purposes, I might point out that such a doubling would enable each of the Endowments to buy two F-22 fighter planes instead of only one.
Both the humanities and the arts must certainly make the case in the practical terms that the public seems to understand, but not only in those terms. When it comes to the economic ripple effects of both the humanities and the arts, both are as shovel-ready as any sector of the economy could be. Many studies have shown that lively arts communities can be powerful economic engines and justify public investment.
But people who go to plays and concerts, eat in restaurants, and will sometimes buy airplane tickets, and stay in hotels for the purpose. And of course, there are jobs for actors, musicians, stagehands, ticket sellers and takers, and a great many others. Less often advanced is the comparable case for the humanities.
There are certainly plenty of unemployed and underemployed PhDs in the humanities, all of whom could be put to work in the very labor-intensive kind of work that members of humanities faculties do with their students. Imagine establishing something of the quality of Cornell's Knight Writing program in some fraction of the 4,000 or so institutions of higher education in the country. The economic impact would be every bit as powerful as creating the jobs that build highways and bridges, and the contribution to repairing the nation's crumbling intellectual infrastructure would be notable.
Imagine if after a certain time a significant fraction of the US Congress had been through a program like that--
--in which writing is taught as a tool of thinking and not just as a matter of ensuring agreement in number between subject and verb. Imagine that. OK, leave out the part about the US Congress.
This is still a pretty good argument in terms of job creation and the contribution to GDP resulting from an investment in the humanities. There are even arguments for the humanities in terms of the National Defense and global competitiveness. Suppose the nation invested significantly over the long-term and knowing the languages, and history, and religion, and culture of other peoples instead of waiting until we decide to start a war somewhere and find ourselves embarrassed that we do not have enough people capable of reading the local newspapers.
It might even be better to know and appreciate the cultures of people we hope to have as our allies if it comes to that. But we might even know enough to think better of going to war in the first place. And then, we might be a lot better at selling all of that stuff that we like to sell around the world with all of the consequences for job creation at home.
Now, someone will say, but what about all of those F-22s that we want to sell, especially since our own Defense Department doesn't want to buy them despite the insistence of the many members of Congress in whose district some piece of that airplane is made? I didn't say this was easy. But let's say that for every F-22 that we agree not to make and sell, we will give them 3,000 humanities postdocs-- grocery buying, car buying, tax paying humanities postdocs-- to teach writing and thinking to their constituents. Some will fear that this might not lead to their re-election.
We will need to work out further incentives in order to get this passed, especially for the state of Nebraska. But we'll have plenty of time before that reality strikes. One should not fear a certain amount of talk about money. And one should not shrink from making the instrumental argument as forcefully as others will make it for their own purposes.
The problem, however, is that squabbling over money drives a wedge where we ought not to want a wedge to be driven, especially in a university. This wedge is likely to present itself first in terms of the so-called "two cultures". It has been 50 years since CP Snow delivered the Rede Lecture at Cambridge with the title quote, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution".
It's published title, The Two Cultures, has entered the language as shorthand for something about the difference between the sciences and the humanities. And the phrase is often used by people who have long since forgotten exactly what he had to say or perhaps never knew.
The idea of such a difference continues to have a powerful hold on our thinking. And much that is said about the sciences and the humanities at present not only assume some sort of difference, but acts to reinforce it. This often takes the form of a kind of rivalry, sometimes set about with jealousies small and large, in which one culture or the other feels underappreciated in relation to the other, or simply unappreciated altogether.
Most often both feel undervalued, even if for somewhat different reasons. If we take for granted the existence of two separate cultures, then the best that we are likely to be able to hope for is a kind of two-state solution with the two cultures living peacefully next to one another, each culture secure within its own borders and engaging perhaps in some amount of trade.
What we should try instead, however, to loosen the grip of this construct on our thinking. I do not mean only to suggest that the terrain of the social sciences should be taken as a third culture, as Snow himself came to think possible or as Jerome Kagan does in a recent book. Indeed, the colloquial distinction between the hard and soft social sciences provides further evidence of the power of the notion of two cultures.
In order to begin to deconstruct this opposition, it will help to recall some of the terms in which Snow put his argument. His principal concern was that disparity between the world's rich and its poor. Indeed, he had originally thought of calling the Lecture "The Rich and the Poor," and later wished that he had not changed his mind.
This was not a matter of idle speculation. He was certain that the poor had observed the gulf that separated them from the rich, and that they would not long tolerate that gulf before resorting to violence. Of the disparity between rich and poor, he asserted that quote, "Whatever else in the world we know survives to the year 2000, that won't."
Further he wrote, "Since the gap between the rich countries and the poor can be removed, it will be. If we are short-sighted, inept, incapable of either goodwill or enlightened self-interest, then it may be removed to the accompaniment of war and starvation. But removed it will be. The questions are how and by whom."
The solution to this problem, he thought, would require first a vast outlay of capital by the industrialized world. And now I quote, "The second requirement, after capital-- as important as capital-- is men. That is trained scientists and engineers adaptable enough to devote themselves to a foreign country's industrialization for at least 10 years out of their lives.
These men, whom we don't yet possess, need to be trained not only in scientific but in human terms. They could not do their job if they did not shrug off every trace of paternalism," which he said characterized the work of plenty of Europeans from St. Francis Xavier to Schweitzer. He goes on, "Asians and Africans want men who will muck in as colleagues, who will pass on what they know, do an honest technical job, and get out.
Fortunately, this is an attitude which comes easily to scientists," he says. "They are freer than most people from racial feeling. Their own culture is, in its human relations, a democratic one and their own internal climate, the breeze of the equality of man, hits you in the face sometimes rather roughly just as it does in Norway."
After expressing his doubts about how such a massive undertaking might be brought about, he begins his penultimate paragraph as follows, "Meanwhile, there are steps to be taken which aren't outside the powers of reflective people. Education isn't the total solution to this problem. But without education, the West can't even begin to cope.
All the arrows point the same way. Closing the gap between our cultures is a necessity in the most abstract intellectual sense as well as in the most practical. When those two senses have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom.
For the sake of the intellectual life, for the sake of the country's special danger, for the sake of Western society living precariously rich among the poor, for the sake of the poor who needn't be poor if there is intelligence of the world, it is obligatory for us, and Americans, and the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes."
A few years later, he characterized the relation between the two cultures as follows, quote, "Between these two groups, the scientists and the literary intellectuals, there is little communication. And instead of fellow feeling, something like hostility." To put the matter starkly, his was not only an assertion of the importance of the scientific resolution as a solution to all of the world's problems, especially the problem of the disparity between rich and poor. It was an attack on quote "literary intellectuals" for standing in the way of what scientists and applied scientists could accomplish.
That the two cultures did not communicate with one another was a terribly serious problem. But this was principally because the literary culture and its, as he calls them, Luddites-- as exemplified in his view in Britain's Civil Service-- stood in the way of the ability of the scientific culture to cure the world's ills. In later comments, he asserted that quote, "Scientists in a divided culture provide a knowledge of some potentialities which is theirs alone."
One must admire the passion with which he viewed the need to improve very substantially the condition of the world's poor, who still greatly outnumber the well-to-do of Western developed countries. But, of course, the disparity between rich and poor has now lasted well beyond the year 2000. And it would be hard to assert today that this is because scientists and engineers have been held back from the effort by humanists.
The polemic that erupted was hardly surprising except, perhaps, in its vitriol on the side of the literary intellectuals. Nevertheless, Snow had made it clear who the enemy was. And among many other things, to say that scientists are freer from racial feeling than humanists can hardly have been much less outrageous than it would be today.
Hence, the enemy responded with all of the literary gifts at its disposal. His own rejoinder to this response was moments even more pointed. After a critique of modernist literature, in which he names names of poets, and novelists, and so forth, he writes, "The question is this. How far is it possible to share the hopes of the scientific revolution, the modest difficult hopes for other human lives, at the same time participate without qualification in the kind of literature that we have just defined?"
He professed genuinely not to know the answer. And of course, you remember that Snow wrote novels of his own. And in the vitriol that followed, there were many remarks about what a terrible novelist he was.
How might we describe the relations between the two cultures 50 years after the Rede Lecture? Jerome Kagan writes, quote, "CP Snow would not have to alter the essential claims in his 1959 essay, and would not have been surprised by the even broader gulf that exists between natural scientists and humanists. However, he might not have anticipated the strident rejection of evolutionary theory by advocates of creation ideology and a public less willing to regard the rationally-based conclusions of natural science as the soundest bases for all decisions."
I doubt that the gulf is really broader. But however broad, I believe it to be different in character from the one that Snow describes, setting aside, at least for the moment, whether his description was entirely accurate even then. For a start, surely no one could reasonably claim that literary intellectuals could be responsible for holding back the progress of science in solving the world's problems, at least not from the perspective of the United States.
Whatever many scientists may believe about such people, it is clear that, in this country, there have not been enough of them or their students holding public office to do any harm or any good either. Scientists have mostly been too busy and too well-funded to worry much about humanists except perhaps to make fun of one or another fad typically affecting only a small part of the humanities.
For their part, humanists have mostly learned to live with the fact that scientists are very busy pursuing their own work and the very substantial resources that are required to support it. Some humanists will fear that the disparity in resources and the institutional energy devoted to pursuing them distorts some of the basic values of universities, and can even lead to a kind of corruption of universities by commercial or governmental interests. But except perhaps in times of university budget cuts, when there is competition for resources among all constituencies in the university, most humanists will be reasonably content that there's not very much they can do about the matter.
Two questions, then, remain. If not the humanists, what is it that has prevented the scientific revolution from curing the world's problems? And two, what is science capable of accomplishing in the world? And why should we want to study it in any case?
The answer to the first question lies in Kagan's remark about what might indeed surprise CP Snow about the rejection of evolutionary theory by advocates of creation ideology and a public less willing to regard the rationally-based conclusions of natural sciences as the soundest bases for all decisions. I hope that not even all scientists regard science as the soundest basis for all decisions. But apart from that, the people being referred to here are certainly not the humanists, properly so-called.
Indeed, most sciences and most humanists, properly so-called, would be on precisely the same side with respect to this question. Here there are, no doubt, two cultures arrayed against one another. But they are not the sciences versus the humanities.
They are something more like thoughtful people versus anti-intellectuals. This suggests the answer to the second question. What has held back the application of science the solution of many of the world's problems, and has indeed used science to create a good many of those problems, is the very large population of outright anti-intellectuals. And then, too, the not insignificant group of people, whom we might be willing to call either scientists or humanists, but who are not able to think carefully enough about what science might be good for, about the responsibilities it entails, and about the most important reasons for studying it.
The real anti-scientists, in our midst, are every bit as much anti-humanists by any reasonable definition. In this sense, the real enemy, in the struggle to improve the quality both physical and intellectual of the lives of the world's peoples, is an enemy that scientists and humanists have in common. But the problem is still more complicated.
For even if we could sweep away that common enemy, we would not be likely to solve the world's problems. That is because the community of scientists and humanists itself includes people who are not sufficiently thoughtful. Some of them are even evil.
Unfortunately, science can be put both to good and evil purposes, as we all know. It can also produce terrible effects when it is used even by well-meaning scientists and engineers without a sufficient concern for possible longer term consequences. For example, the destruction of the environment is made possible by science and engineering as deployed in the main by scientists and engineers.
Now, before any humanist rises to say that this would all be avoided if scientists and engineers studied more humanities, it must be pointed out that this is not true either. Some people with deep knowledge of the humanities and, indeed, of some of the world's greatest artists and writers have been despicable people. Alas, training more scientists and engineers, and training more humanists, and obliging them all to study with one another will not by itself deliver the results that Snow imagined.
Realizing that the problem is more complicated than it has sometimes been said to be, however, might just be the beginning of working toward at least partial solutions. In the present context, this entails realizing that both the sciences and the humanities, as formal courses of study, have often been oversold as cures for our ills. The instrumental arguments for teaching science follow from the instrumental arguments for science itself. And the latter are closely related to Snow's arguments.
Science solves the world's problems. It raises the standard of living by creating economic prosperity and curing disease. In national contexts, its darker virtue, which is almost as often cited as any other, is its contribution to National Defense or, all too often, its contribution to the ability to make war.
In the American context, given the national practical turn of mind, these are the arguments most likely to work. And it must be said that some of the scientific community has often been willing to make somewhat cynical use of the National Defense argument in the attempt to justify the allocation of resources, the science that ought to be justified in other terms, but which have less appeal to the general public and its elected representatives.
In this context, we should all recall the words of a very great Cornellian-- the physicist Robert Wilson, Founding Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and for whom Cornell's own laboratory is named. When asked, in Congressional testimony, whether Fermilab would contribute to the National Defense, he replied, "It will not contribute to the National Defense except to make the nation worth defending."
This could set us on a path away from assuming the existence of two cultures to an understanding of what scientists and humanists have deeply in common, and why it is essential that they work very closely together. When thoughtful scientists and humanists are troubled about the place of their own disciplines in national life, they actually share a single, disturbing view. Archie Ammons captures this in characteristic fashion, "Ideas pass through most heads without taking on any substance or leaving any trace."
Let us stipulate that there are both know-nothing humanists and know-nothing scientists, who assume that theirs is the only way of knowing anything worth knowing. It will be essential to overcome such views on both sides. Science has enabled us to understand only certain aspects of the world we live in, namely the natural world. And there's much that we will not soon understand even about that.
Indeed, the way in which science proceeds is by demonstrating that some previously agreed upon understanding was simply wrong. This, at a minimum, calls for a certain modesty with respect to acting on what science claims to understand at any given moment. Furthermore, the scientific method embodies only one, though very powerful, method of knowing. And many of the things that we might like to know, that might aid us in going about the world, are simply not amenable to the scientific method.
John Maynard Keynes in his General Theory, gives a nice illustration. I quote, "The statement that Queen Victoria was a better queen, though not a happier woman than Queen Elizabeth, is a proposition not without meaning and not without interest, but unsuitable as material for the differential calculus. Because I am a humanist, some may suppose that I am now about to launch into an assertion of the importance of the humanities and the liberal arts curriculum that should be imposed on scientists.
Such an assertion, of which there have been many, would be likely to rely, however, on a justification of the humanities that is as incomplete as the typical instrumental arguments so often advanced to promote the sciences. It would merely throw us back into the clutches of the uneasy peace with occasional border skirmishes between the alleged two cultures. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to consider some aspects of the humanities and their place in society."
Humanists have long believed that the study of the humanities required essentially no justification. The importance of the humanities was self-evident in this view, and school curricula embodied it. To study the humanities was to acquire culture. And in Matthew Arnold's famous words, "Culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world."
In the English-speaking world, the definition of the best remained rather narrow for a long time. A number of things conspired to undermine this, however. In the United States, it was perhaps always somewhat at odds with a practical spirit oriented toward discovery and creation of the new. Then, in the latter part of the 20th century, a great diversity of cultural voices demanded admission to the best, which encouraged the view, in some quarters, that all was relative in the humanities.
In the worst of cases, this alleged relativism meant that the humanities had lost their claim to the national attention at anything like the level of the sciences, which had experienced-- at least since the second World War-- an enormous rise in prestige and resources. All of this continued the line of CP Snow. This engendered a kind of envy within the humanities as well as the arts with resulting calls for increased resources and perhaps, more than anything, signs of attention and respect.
It was most apparent on university and college campuses. But to a limited degree, it made itself in the public sphere as well. Universities created Centers for the Humanities. And government created a National Endowment for the Humanities and numerous state Councils for the Humanities. By comparison with the sciences, of course, the resources allocated to these activities were trivial.
In pursuing these objectives, humanists were increasingly drawn to advancing the kinds of arguments that seem to work so well for the sciences. These were instrumental arguments. Although it was not so easy to demonstrate the contributions of the humanities to the Gross Domestic Product or the National Defense, these were the kinds of arguments that seemed to be required.
Thus, even while wistfully recalling an earlier era in which it had been sufficient to advocate the humanities for the humanities' sake, and while objecting to society's seeming insistence on justifying everything only in material terms, many in the humanities gave in to the need to justify their enterprise in precisely such terms. The problem is that, as in the realm of the sciences, the instrumental argument is too often and too easily oversold. Even the more elevated arguments, in terms of the civilizing and even ennobling effects of study in the humanities, cannot be guaranteed.
Many high-ranking Nazis were highly cultured and had a deep knowledge of the literature, philosophy, and art of the Western tradition. Closer to home, many American undergraduates fulfilled their distribution requirements at distinguished institutions without seeming to have developed the intellectual equipment that the humanities claim, in these terms, to develop. Some of them even go on to hold the highest political offices in spite of that, as if to prove the point.
Of course, many students do have thrilling experiences in their study of the humanities, as do many in the sciences. And they will have been sitting in classes alongside those that do not. Thoughtful scientists and humanists are equally dismayed at the quality of the nation's intellectual life and for the same reasons.
Because so much more money is at stake in terms of investment as well as economic outcome, science has pressed the matter harder. But what scientists and humanists both lament, underneath it all, is the scarcity in society of a certain quality of mind. It is not about how many people can recite the second law of thermodynamics or describe what happened in 1789.
To be sure, scientists and humanists have different tools that are suitable for studying different kinds of things. But both are driven by curiosity and a passion to know and understand more. They cannot imagine being bored. And they do not know the difference between work and fun.
Truly thoughtful scientists and humanists may know different things and employ different methods in the effort to learn still more. But neither would or should claim that theirs are the only things worth knowing, and theirs the only tool worth applying. Their common aim is to develop ways to think about whatever needs thinking about, taking care not to allow their own tools to blind them to the utility of others.
Above all, they revel in the life of the mind. And this is what they seek to develop in others. This suggests that their most fundamental goals, in educating students and the general public, really are the same. And this, in turn, calls for a much deeper collaboration between them.
That collaboration, and indeed the collaboration of everyone involved in the work of the university, cannot rest first and foremost on how to divide up the money and justify, in purely financial terms, that division. We often speak of businesses in terms of their value proposition. We sometimes speak of higher education in terms of its value proposition, the financial return over a lifetime of an investment in higher education.
It is essential, however, that we also think about the values proposition of higher education and of the humanities and the arts more broadly. The character of a society and of a university will ultimately reflect its values more than its wealth. Values will determine how wealth is created and the uses to which it is put.
The question that a society or a university must ask itself, therefore-- especially in times of strained resources-- is what are our values. What do we, in fact, stand for? Bill Readings wrote a book some years ago titled The University in Ruins, in which he observed that the university, as it took shape in the 19th and into the 20th century, was the product of the nation state and served the state's purposes by forming its youth into proper citizens.
With the decline of the nation state, he claimed, universities no longer served that function and, thus, came to stand for nothing of particular substance save the claim of excellence, which is, for the most part, vacuous. To say that what a university values most is excellence is by itself not to say very much. Such a statement participates too much in the culture of sports, which afflicts us all, as if it were possible to define reasonably what it means for a university to be in the top 10, and as if it means anything of consequence for very many of the 4,000 institutions in the country to claim that they either are in the top 10 or aspire to get there.
A university should stand for something, should have values that are not determined by purely financial considerations. I do not mean by this that it must have a high-sounding mission statement. For a start, it must care about values and be engaged in a steady examination of its values, ensuring that its resources are deployed appropriately in support of them. Imagine the proverbial visiting Martian walking around the campus, reading the campus newspaper, looking at the university website, overhearing conversations among the whole range of members of the university community, and asking, what do these creatures seem to care about?
Imagine the archaeologists, thousands of years hence, excavating the place and asking the same kind of question. By this I do not mean to suggest that every faculty member should teach and every student should take a course with the word values or ethics in the title. Such notions should be baked into every last course in the university to some degree no matter what its title.
It is, nevertheless, the humanities and the arts that explore human values and confront each of us with the need to choose the values by which we will live. In a period in which the nation is quite properly concerned about the creation of jobs, for the embarrassingly high number of unemployed, we must also concern ourselves with the values that will shape the lives of those who do have jobs-- perhaps even extremely lucrative jobs-- as well as those who do not. These values will determine how, indeed, if our democracy is the function.
Whether for rich or poor, a job is not something to be pursued simply for its own sake with no thought of what greater purpose life might embody. And an education that prepares only for a job without attention to greater purposes is not an education in the fullest sense. Great works of art and literature explore these matters and present them powerfully as nothing else can, which is the deepest reason for making the humanities and the arts a part of every education and every life there after.
There must always be an abundance of signs in the system that we care about such things, even though exposure to such things is not guaranteed to work in the life of every individual. If some students and, perhaps, even some faculty members fail to engage deeply with the kinds of human problems that the humanities and the arts explore, and fail to be inspired by the richness of human artistic creation, it should not be because the university does not make clear in its daily life, in the allocation of its time, energy, and money that these are essential ingredients in any life worth living.
It might be countered to all of this that although money does not in and of itself matter all that much, it is how one keeps score. And there will be the argument that some things simply cost more than others and necessarily consume a greater than average share of available resources. Both propositions should be greeted with some skepticism.
The university's values must not be determined by what is said to quote "bring in the most money", and what is said to be inherently more costly. The sciences bring in large quantities of money to a university like Cornell. But all of that money costs the university even more money, an important part of it being paid for by the parents of undergraduates whether the federal government or anyone else admits this or not.
In the University of California system, which is under enormous stress, there have been official pronouncements that English and such fields are quote "the problem". Because unlike the sciences and the professional schools, there's no one to pay for them. Counterclaims have been advanced on the basis of studies showing that in some fields in the humanities, such as English, some of these fields actually bring in more revenue than they spend.
This puts the argument over resources in the wrong terms. Even if everyone could be persuaded that the English department is a profit center, that should not be the reason for having one. The style of university administration that is grounded in such analyses, often called Responsibility Centered Management, by its nature leaves values entirely out of account and precludes a role for anything that one might be willing to call educational principle.
Because I care deeply about Cornell University, I will allow myself to conclude by saying something about this specific case. Cornell University had a version of Responsibility Centered Management long before it became fashionable. This grew up as a way of managing the relationship between the state of New York and the private side of the University.
I used to joke that if the dean of some college took a drink from the fountain outside the president's office on the third floor of Day Hall, his or her college was charged for it. At the present moment of some stress, however, a further move in the direction of Responsibility Centered Management would be truly dangerous in strategic terms and even as a business decision. If we were to think of this simply as a question of business strategy, we would begin by asking what are Cornell's unique strengths, and what distinguishes it from its competitors.
Does it have a profile on the landscape of higher education that it should want to maintain and strengthen rather than become more or less indistinguishable from its competitors? I believe that it does. I've explained to myself and anyone else who cares to listen, and sometimes those who don't care to listen-- the hour's getting late-- why it is that I devoted 32 years of my life to this place, saying that there is more intellectual fresh air blowing through here than through the places it plays football and even basketball against.
That derives from its remarkable intellectual diversity. One cannot assume at Cornell that everyone, whether students or faculty, thinks the way you do. In my freshman seminar of 17 students, on some musical topic, only five or six of my students might be from arts and sciences. From day one, all 17 were obliged to come to terms with and learn to communicate with people arriving with very different intellectual perspectives.
The faculty, even when deeply occupied with affairs of their own departments, live in a larger environment in which the received opinion of one group cannot be counted on to persuade another. Cornell is, in fact, greater than the sum of its extremely good parts because every part of it derives strength. I would say intellectual but certainly, in competitive terms, derives strength from its association with the others.
Without the quality of its arts and sciences, Cornell becomes Davis or a smaller Michigan State. Without the quality of its agriculture, and life sciences, and others of the contract colleges Cornell becomes an also-ran in the Ivy League and so on. Responsibility Centered Management, in anything like its pure form, will drive Cornell's components apart and give away its greatest strength. If every time a student walks across the street money needs to change hands, and that becomes the University's guiding principle, students will soon be prevented from crossing the street and will be the lesser for it.
All of this calls for the University's leaders to make decisions based on values rather than formulas, a grave and difficult responsibility. But it also calls on the University's faculty and students to understand and appreciate what they have to gain from their association with one another across all boundaries. This is a value worth building a university on, making it a place where the life of the restless mind is prized above all else and remains ever open to the awesome beauties of nature, and of peoples, and cultures different from one's own, and of creations of the human imagination that explore what it is to be a human being and why one might want to be one. Thank you.
TIMOTHY MURRAY: Ah, Don has agreed to entertain some questions. I would well imagine you might have some or declarations of outrage.
DON RANDEL: Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: Well, it seems to me that to deepen polarity that you articulate, between the soft scientists and hard scientists, It seems to be that in a competitive paradigm, this sort of thing is always waiting in the wing. But there are other models out there.
Example, Scandinavia and Sweden, you have the Karolinska Institutet, very well-known for their science and research. You have the [INAUDIBLE], all those supporting at the same time. And it seems to me when we talk about the humanities, there's some underlying assumption about leisure, about culture and leisure.
How can you sustain that in a competitive society? They have a different model. And it's not that good. And it works.
DON RANDEL: Well, they have a different model from very many perspectives such as providing health care for all citizens, and access to education for all citizens, and so forth. And the support of the institutions you name is mostly public, not private. In this country, we have essentially no cultural policy and no policy with respect to higher education nationally.
This is all left to the states and localities with the result that the picture is mixed at best. And there is no mechanism even for expressing a national commitment to these activities. So it really is left to a kind of marketplace in which large parts of the public simply don't vote for some of these activities that we're talking about.
And I've spent some of my early life studying Spanish culture. It was astonishing and embarrassing to me that the Spaniards could invite me to conferences on my modest little subject, and pay my way, and give me an honorarium, and so forth. And I had not the slightest possibility of reciprocating that. Some countries have managed to establish a commitment. And it is not particularly left up to the vote of the citizenry, as it is here, about whether to have art and music in high schools.
So we have a profoundly different environment. And changing that will not be a simple matter.
AUDIENCE: --comment on the research, shape of the university institution where the labor market was 70% of all academic jobs are now contingent. And increasingly, the largest part of that 70% is part-time. So the question of values, of funding the humanities, and all of these things are tied into a material situation which is deteriorating. Because the workforce is increasingly being diverted by the demographic business going on.
DON RANDEL: This is a very complicated matter. And no single institution will find it easy to swim against the current there. Part of the pressure come from students and their parents, who want kids to study practical kinds of things. Business degrees are the single most common undergraduate course of study. How we work against the fact that more and more humanities PhDs are finding it tough to find an academic job?
AUDIENCE: This is true, not--
DON RANDEL: Well--
AUDIENCE: Excuse me. It's not just true in the humanities. I mean, this is across the academic spectrum. So it cuts into the sciences as well.
DON RANDEL: Right, right. I think probably, I don't know, English and philosophy probably still win in that context. But [? Fellow ?] Mellon Foundation's creating as many postdocs as it can create, create positions for these people.
I mean, I think, for one thing, it would be wonderful if-- and this we've talked about forever-- if society would employ PhDs in humanities in lots of places besides academic institutions. And that would be another difference with European countries where you find PhDs in the humanities doing all kinds of things-- government work, private sector, publishing, the arts, you name it.
And maybe economic circumstances will force that in this country. And that could be a good thing for the country. But the transitional moment is very difficult. And it must pain every last citizen in the country to see arguably the world's greatest system of public higher education in California being systematically dismantled and with people thrown onto these marginal kinds of jobs. Sir.
AUDIENCE: So, Don, [? the question I'm ?] [? with here ?] in objective into the acquisition between humanities and the sciences. And yet I felt there was a bit of a tension in your talk where you say that on one hand that what a university stood for should be part of every course baked into it but at the same, the humanities becoming repository values. The question's whether that's empirically true.
I mean, with the way we exist, for instance. When you teach a biology course, which has an environmental element, or an engineering course along those lines, seems like values are pretty deeply integrated, I mean, even when we study social sciences. But [INAUDIBLE] say you were a Medieval musicologist, just to take the case. It's not self-evident that [CHUCKLES] values of a philosophical sort are going to be the first thing that you're teaching nor-- and this is where I'm going-- should they be? And so what I didn't hear in your talk was a claim for the intellectual value of the humanities as opposed to the ethical [? values. ?] I think that you're going that way is it turns all of humanities into weak versions of philosophy.
DON RANDEL: Yeah. This suggests many subtopics. The heart of what you say is, of course, why I was forced to leave the Music department and join the administration. Because my subject was so irrelevant, you know?
And as a student of Medieval music, if I ever went back to it, no more has been composed in the meantime. And so, it's right there where I left it. So one of the things I said not only that there is the values question.
But there is the question of ways of knowing things. And there is also the question of engaging with artistic creation and experiencing, I would say, first-hand both the making and the studying of great works of art, that providing students and society at large with an engagement with beautiful, or maybe even ugly things sometimes, is also one of the things that the humanities and the arts [? of ?] that's crucially important about it.
So it's not really that everybody should read Silas Marner and the teacher of Silas Marner, who's just going to say, now you see what happened to Silas. You mustn't let that happen to you. Though you learn something by reading Silas Marner.
But you also learn something if you're, I would say, studying music, which is utterly non-verbal and which can be simultaneously inspiring about what the human mind is capable of. And same with the sciences on the other hand. I mean, one of the topics to be taken up really in conjunction with scientists is how to teach science for non-scientists.
This is not well done, I think, in lots of cases. Because we make it too easy, sometimes fearing that the non-scientists won't want to take it if it's really hard and you have to do math. But then also, for a long time, the way you studied science-- whether you were a scientist or not-- if you took the first year physics course, and that was a whole year of Newtonian mechanics, and you just kind of learned that stuff.
And it didn't teach you anything about what scientists actually do, and so forth. So there's a big job to be done, I think, in creating education in the sciences for the non-scientists and in the humanities for the scientist. Yes.
[? AUDIENCE: That was ?] [? you ?] were able to answer your last question-- what is it to be a human and whether it's worth it to be a human being. Maybe I am [INAUDIBLE]. If we answer that question, now my question to you, how is it that previous cultures-- and you know. For instance, you have studied the Middle Ages in musicology. And the cultures that were able to combine both the altruistic as well as utilitarian reasons for studying and collaborating between sciences and the humanities and the art. Why is it that we are unable to learn from those cultures?
DON RANDEL: It's, I think, not that we're unable to. But we don't, perhaps, make a sufficient effort to learn from other cultures, no one of which will turn out to have been perfect. I mean, every one of them will have their failures.
God knows the Middle Ages was a pretty terrible period in which to live if you happened to be a Protestant in a certain part of France in the 16th century. That's one of the things that always has troubled me about the holding up the virtues of Western civilization. And I say, well, OK, let's pick a period in Western civilization that we think is really great-- the 16th century.
Think of the artists. Think of the literature. Thousands of Frenchmen slaughtered one another on the basis of distinction between Protestant and Catholicism, which is not measurable on the scale of the world's religions.
So we have to learn from other civilizations by seeing what take do they have, did they have on what it means to be a human being. And what ways might we wish to have a different view from them? And what ways might we improve our own view of them?
It goes absolutely without saying that every education must include coming to terms with what it's like to be different from yourself and to engage another culture, appreciate-- possibly even love-- other peoples and cultures who are different from oneself, and with whom one may not come to agree but with whom one must have a serious kind of engagement. Yes.
AUDIENCE: In regard to of a reference you made several times during the talk to the woeful lack of impact of whatever [? was complete, ?] [? accrue, ?] the woeful lack of impact in the general public sphere. And the situation in the United States seems to be getting worse, not better. I wonder from your present position, and the way that you see how higher education is moving, if you see anything really promising-- I mean, really promising-- in regard to the new technologies that would break down this isolation of the ivory tower, and actually make whatever benefits we can afford on the questions of values available in a way that would enrich the public sphere.
DON RANDEL: There's no question that the new technologies will become powerfully, ever more powerfully present in our national life. Unfortunately, of course, they can be used for terrible purposes as well. So a lot of what we might complain about today is made possible by these new technologies.
In the end, I guess, I continue to believe that what is at the heart of every really powerful experience in the realm of education is an encounter with another transforming individual. And what I've always thought about distance learning techniques is that if there is a human presence of direct human encounter, then lots of things can be carried on as supplements, adjuncts to all of that. But the student, more or less, needs to believe that there is some human being who cares whether they learn things or not.
And I'm always saying that in the musical world, after a certain time, you don't need a teacher to tell you where to put your fingers. You need a teacher who can get you to practice. And you think of all the piles of DVDs and, before that, VHS tapes you have lying around the house from which you were going to learn x foreign language, and somehow those piles are there. And you still don't know that language.
I mean, get somebody who inspires you to want to do something, I think, is a crucial ingredient. Around that, you can build a lot of technology and do, I think, quite marvelous things. But I don't see a simple answer to how this is going to make things inevitably better. Because there are too many examples of it's being made inevitably worse. And now comes the moment that every speaker trembles at, Dominick LaCapra raises his hand. [CHUCKLES]
DOMINICK LACAPRA: I wanted to begin by saying that I think that what you've presented is very, very thoughtful especially at a time when you're still attempting, if you're in the administration and even if you're not, to look to university. The zero sum [? determines ?] and who asks, as their [? partner ?] question, what are we going to cut away? Where can we make our cuts without posing the prior questions of what are we doing in the university?
Is the university a predominately or essentially financial operation? And how do we relate to a larger context of which many with restraints in the university have been imposed by social and economic forces often represented by our own trustees over which we have absolutely no control? So that's a kind [? of prior ?] [? thing. ?]
The thing I wanted to say in the way in more substantive terms is that whether you've noticed-- something that I've found very striking in the last 10 or 15 years-- the way in which the humanities, at their borders or, for some, their cutting edges are themselves changing and mutating in the direction of what some people using the post- vocabulary are calling post-humanism and post-secularity. And to some extent, these tendencies within the humanities correspond to tendencies in the larger culture. The question is religion coming back, which begs the question did it ever go away?
Religion was always there. Evangelical religion was always there. The problem was that intellectuals never noticed it. It was marginal through them. And what is a little bit a cause of concern in contemporary culture is the way that return of religion has as its primary component, perhaps, a certain kind of dogmatic Evangelicalism that is politicized. That's a real worry.
Within the humanities, the notion of the post-human and the post-secular also can cause certain worry. [? Ultimately, ?] two aspects that I think are more prudent. One, in a certain approach to post-humanism, posing very seriously the question of the relationship between the human and other animals. So that a certain kind of humanism is suspect because it has always tended to scapegoat some other. And when you get rid of all the obvious others-- on the basis of gender, race, and so forth-- you still have the animal.
And the primary perception of the animal is that the animal is there for the human being, for human musings. And there isn't some kind of broader conception of human-animal relations, which would allow for an interaction between the humanities and the sciences, for example. That is a point of intersection of the humanities and the sciences.
And the post-secular as well, I mean, the post-secular can be very [? converse ?] in terms of messianicity whether with or without Messiah as a kind of post-Romanticism that has a very abstract, sometimes vapid Utopianism as its motivation. I find that worrisome. But what is interesting is that it may lead to the re-thinking of aspects of religion and the sacred, and raise the question of whether our secular concepts aren't so well-defined.
Is culture a purely secular concept? Is aesthetics a purely secular concept? Is politics and so forth? And how do these things interact with how might other elements of, let's say, the sacred-- for example, in terms of ritual, or in terms of oblation, or gift-giving-- that one might recuperate within an expanded notion of [? humanities? ?]
DON RANDEL: I've--
I'm ready for you, Dominick. I'm ready. I've often remarked in public that arguably the three most powerful forces in human life have been race, religion, and sex. And universities basically don't teach about those things.
We suppose that the kids get it on their own somehow. I mean, you put your finger on very powerfully interesting questions. And it goes a little bit to Walter's question earlier.
Many of us were formed in a period when the humanities were galloping as hard as they could to get to be like sciences. And that led to a kind of specialization. And we studied literature.
But we weren't interested in how literature might make you a better person. We were interested in lots of other kinds of things. So there's a little bit, maybe big extent to which we have ourselves to blame for the course that is sometimes taken.
But now is the time when many things, of the kind you describe, are on the table and beg to be talked about. I mean, and in fact, the whole justification for the study of the kinds of things we might have studied in this room is often because that is what distinguishes us from the beasts of the field. So talk about a question that deserves exploration. I mean, I think religion in all of its aspects, whatever you believe about it, is something that needs to be part of what we study.
Because that's part of what it means to be a human being. Or at least people have invented their views of what it means to be a human being by studying questions of that kind. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Well, it's not just religion. I think the [? whole true ?] culture is also important. There's this assumption that by a study of literature and the humanities, that studying literature makes you a better person.
The idea that studying literature makes you into a certain person that appreciates other culture, and [? empowering ?] them, and where you have a more sophisticated understanding. But it's hard to really think of a society that's been more sophisticated, both in terms of science and humanities, than early 20th century Germany.
DON RANDEL: That's exactly what I said, right? I mean--
AUDIENCE: Like, we think that somehow by getting our undergraduates to read a little more literature, they can be more sophisticated. And they appear to [INAUDIBLE]. And now they know very different.
DON RANDEL: That precisely was--
DON RANDEL: --one of my main points, that the argument for the sciences and the argument for the humanities are both oversold. Because manifestly, there are people with deep knowledge of the humanities who are despicable criminals. And so that's where the values proposition has to assert itself.
That is it's not just that this happens magically. But that you have to, in fact, bear down on the values side of the question at some point. And you cannot assume that everybody is going to get it.
But what I would say in the context of the University, I mean, you have to admit that not all of your students get it despite your desperate attempts to draw them into this marvelously beautiful world that you explore. That doesn't mean you give up on it.
I mean, it causes, calls for you to redouble the efforts. But you make a very important point, which I tried to make. Yes.
AUDIENCE: So humanities depends so much on resources being devoted to them. And the NEH has had abysmal record in terms of being funded. But the NEA received additional funding.
But it has a powerful and very scary slogan. "A great nation deserves great art", which scares the hell out of me for a justification for art. So how do you do that in terms of understanding the increasing importance for humanities support in [? part? ?]
DON RANDEL: Well, the current management of the NEA is getting rid of that slogan.
AUDIENCE: That's good.
DON RANDEL: Rocco Landesman, who has taken over, however, is riding the instrumental horse as hard as he can. So his slogan is "Art Works". And he is touring the nation, pointing out to everybody who will listen that, by golly, having a theater downtown creates jobs. And the ripple effect, the economic effect is great. And that's why you should have it.
And I worry a lot about that as the sole justification, or even the principal one, for both the humanities and the arts. There has to be more to it than that.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
DON RANDEL: Sir.
AUDIENCE: So I have a narrow, narrow instrumental question to ask you. As important as the NEA is, not very much support for academic institutions ever came from the NEA. Something like 10%, 12%, 15% of research in the arts ever came from the NEA.
But the NEH, at its high-water mark before the [? Neville Ford ?] disaster, was probably 60%, 70% of research money in the humanities across the country. And both endowments took a 44% hit during the 104th Congress and didn't, basically, come back. And this year, the NIH is getting a $3 billion boost, $3 billion. And the NEH is getting shaved by $5.6 million.
So what we're trying to decide how to present ourselves. We have an opportunity, I hope you agree, with the new head of the NEA, even though he's banking on economic development, has an imagination for how to sell that little piece. And the head of the NEH is the most savvy political person who's been in charge of it for a long time. Hell, he's a Republican.
So while we're tyring to decide CP Snow and how to sell ourselves, how do we seize the moment to reverse continuing hemorrhage of the monies that are not even a rounding error in the Federal Budget? How do we bring, even if it says horrible as saying art works, how do we bring something, an argument that even a physician could bring to Washington to argue that not only should the $5.6 million be put back, but that the-- I hate to use the word crisis. Because you had a proscription against [? doing that. ?]
But there is a possibility over a generation or two that this source of money will basically disappear compared to inflation. And that as wonderful as foundations are, they will not be able to step up to the place especially with this economy. So what do we do in this next Congressional session with a sympatico 12- or 18-year Congressman in charge of the NEH and a salesman in charge of the NEA? What do we say in Washington to reverse this trend?
DON RANDEL: A good deal of thought is being devoted to just that very thing, and even talking about what's the timing with which we have to do this. So the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is interested in trying to mount something. And I've just written a little thing for them.
I think one of the things we have to think about is the current climate in Washington for much of anything. But and I think between now and the election in the fall we won't get anywhere. So I think we need to be planning something for the spring of 2011.
I believe that the President of the United States of America and his wife can be recruited to this effort, that we can claim somewhat bigger space in the national discourse about these things. How much money we'll get the Congress to appropriate for it is not clear. At best it will be a modest amount.
But it's worth it, as I say, for being another sign in the system. That we have to assert the importance of these things. And every little bit counts. If the sign on the vector is the right one, that's all by itself good.
So people are trying to think about this. I've had a couple of meetings with Jim Leach asking him, because he is so savvy, what is the right strategy. How can we do this without making his life more miserable? This is what one has to deal, I think to some extent, with the art of the possible, something for which the president is often criticized.
But yes, we're, a number of people are trying to talk about this-- how we make the case and to whom we make the case. And it has to be made deep down. I think that Secretary Duncan will be amenable to this. We need to do something in high schools about humanities and arts, which have also suffered terribly. And so we have whole generation of college kids now who didn't have music and art in their high school.
AUDIENCE: But I have a modest proposal.
DON RANDEL: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Modest proposal is that the argument be pressed by non-humanists. And the discussion you had earlier in answer of your question about the fact that people with master's or doctorates in humanistic fields, in Europe and elsewhere, doing all kinds of things including management and all kinds of things. I think we can be pressed by the manufacturing sector and other places that you wouldn't dream of it.
And I think that when the-- head of the NEH obviously can't lobby. But when others go in who are representing the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I think people's eyes glaze over. And I think that, one in addition to that-- which should happen anyway-- I think would be good to think more broadly.
The last time, there was a serious threat on the science budgets, it was the manufacturing sector that pulled that out. It wasn't university presidents. It wasn't scientists. It wasn't anybody in the normal lobbying.
It was people who said, fill up our pipeline with people who know how to do formulas, and build Patriot missiles, and things like that. Similarly, I think we could easily find some industrials who would say, for all of these reasons, for the embedding of values and other things, we need to make sure that people are studying more than formulas. And it might be more effective. Because the effect in any one congressional district of such a change is so small, I don't think there'd be arguments about it if a little pressure was put to [? them. ?] Just a thought.
DON RANDEL: Yeah, no, no. You're absolutely right about that. And a lot of thinking is going into that too. The "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report, which was chaired by Norm Augustine, is the model that people keep citing.
So who's going to be our Norm Augustine? And one can think of some people in the corporate sector. I think we can't have the humanities being justified and argued for only by captains of industry, and military officers, and actors and actresses-- of whom we can recruit a certain number, to be sure.
But we do need name recognition for the general public in advocating this. And so insofar as the Academy is concerned, it has members like John Reed, and people like that who are from the corporate world, that can be counted on to come to our aid here. It won't only be professors. That's for sure.
TIMOTHY MURRAY: Don has been very generous and given us a very, very long day today.
DON RANDEL: You have been generous. [CHUCKLES]
TIMOTHY MURRAY: And I'd like to extend an invitation to all of you to join us at the AD White House. And before we go, I might just add that our very own local Congressman Maurice Hinchey happens to sit on the subcommittee, the Appropriations subcommittee that will be making the decision about the recommendation for the NEH appropriation. So you should feel free to give Maurice a call.
Thank you very much.
DON RANDEL: [CHUCKLES] Right. Thank you. Thank you very much.
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The humanities are valuable for far more than their economic contribution, former Cornell provost Don Randel told a full house in Goldwin Smith Hall's Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium on March 31.
Randel is president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His lecture was sponsored by the Society for the Humanities.