More than a Mission Statement: Professors explore future of Humanities Center

Delaney Worth, Staff Writer

On Oct. 25, Humanities professors met to address a topic which has become increasingly relevant in recent years: what is the place of the humanities in the modern university? The featured speaker was Kevin Cope, a professor of English and comparative literature at Louisiana State University (LSU) and president of the LSU faculty senate. His presentation focused on the theoretical foundations of the humanities before diving into practical applications for the discipline in the future.

Cope’s lecture was titled “Private Gifts, Public Benefits and Mission Statements: The Humanities and the New Idea of a University.” The lecture touched on these topics with detail, highlighting universities which fall into a variety of demographics from urban pre-professional schools to rural agriculturally-focused schools.

Cope started his talk with two vastly different perspectives from seventeenth-century religious figures on the role of humanities in society. The first thinker claimed that the humanities served as the center of light and reason, while the second, an economist, took a more calculating stance.

He asserted that the humanities are viewed as peripheral necessities for balancing University goals and mission statements in order to acquire more funding and encourage applications. According to Cope, the reality is that mission statements are conglomerations of current societal values, encompassing both the current state of affairs as well as relatively unattainable goals. Essentially, mission statements are elaborately-planned, albeit well-intentioned, advertisements.

Cope praised the University, especially the University Press, for its lauding of the humanities through speaker series, academic book series (including his own upcoming work on the humanities and public policy), and funding. He then drew upon his own position as faculty senate president at LSU to encourage the professors in the room to reach out to donors and emphasize the importance of the humanities as more than just flashy mission statements but as subjects teaching skills which are necessary to thrive in contemporary settings.

Supplementing the presentation were a variety of graphs showing the positive trend in earnings for humanities majors in comparison to those of other majors, such as the social sciences, pre-professional programs, fine arts, the natural sciences, engineering, and health sciences. Apart from engineering and health sciences, salaries for humanities majors displayed the greatest upward trend.

Cope also addressed a recent trend in job applications. Applicants have had greater success when they have certain practical skills from the humanities, such as critical thinking and communications. What does it mean when the knowledge obtained from a course is not as useful as the experience gained from other programs? Can we create a scholarly world that appreciates the humanities? Cope’s speech provided a potential response: funding the humanities departments here and across the nation would be a strong first step towards making the humanities feel both appreciated and relevant.

The University will soon unveil a brand new Humanities Center, the first of its kind on campus. While this is certainly an accomplishment, Cope’s presentation made it clear that more work can be done to put real balance in the University’s programs, rather than limiting some to the periphery for the sake of “balance.”

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