The Question


Join the Debate


There is no sector of knowledge, no part of the academic institution, to which (mildly or highly) cultured people seem to react with more positive emotions than the Humanities and Arts. Tell somebody you are a graduate student in the Arts or a professor in the Humanities and the standard reaction will be wet eyes and the more fundamentalist than innovative exclamation, "Oh, how wonderful!" There is reason to fear, however, that the all-too sweet tenderness of such reactions merely conceals a lack of intellectual substance and reasoned conviction.

Frankly, nobody today can come up with a convincing answer to the question why, that is for which exact practical and intellectual reasons, the Humanities and Arts should continue as a quantitatively and financially significant component of Higher Education. Posing this question seriously, as an inquiry that is not preceded by ready-made answers, is to break an academic taboo. A primary goal of the Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts is to publicly and earnestly pose this question regarding the future of the Humanities and Arts, with the intention of generating much needed clarification and orientation for both faculty and administration. This investigation is neither meant to be an exercise in pessimism and skepticism nor presage a down-sizing of the Humanities and Arts at Stanford. Rather, we hope to thoroughly examine the historical reasons and contemporary implications for this institutional and intellectual crisis of legitimization.

The purpose of this preamble is to introduce a section of regularly changing questions regarding the future of the Humanities and Arts in Higher Education. Questions that we hope will spark discussion and controversy. Forget your suspicion that we might wait for specific, pre-formulated answers here -- the opposite is the case. We need your most reasoned, your most heartfelt, your most intelligent responses.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht