Latest Think Big discussion focuses on humanities

Maryam Iqbal, Staff Reporter

On Monday, Feb. 25, there was another discussion led by Case Western Reserve University Provost Ben Vinson as part of the university’s “Think Big” initiative, aiming to involve the entire campus in the strategic planning for the future.

The discussion featured two speakers on the panel. The first was William Adams, a senior fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Having served as president of both Colby College and Bucknell University, his work centers on the humanities and engagement programs. The second speaker was Earl Lewis, director of the Center of Social Solutions at the University of Michigan (UM). He served as provost at Emory University and teaches African-American studies and history at UM. Lewis has done work on establishing social collaboration online between institutions.

The talk centered on discussing external trends rather than just focusing on CWRU. Lewis started with rethinking the humanities as perhaps the most important courses one could take in college since part of living in a broader world means contextualizing the world with supplementary knowledge one could only learn in the humanities. A proposed way to kickstart this plan is to start professional alignment classes in junior year of college and in the first two years work through interdisciplinary courses in the liberal arts. He believes this is the only way to prepare students for a 21st century education.

To talk about his idea in terms of actual implementation, Lewis related his experience talking to an Emory graduate while serving as provost. The student mentioned that his art history class was the most important he had taken while at college. This was surprising because the graduate worked in finance, but being able to relate to his European clients was important, and small talk between his firm and clients would often start with the question, “What do you think about Monet?” Based on the anecdote above, there were questions about whether humanities would take a more supplementary or mainstream role in the 21st century.

To answer these questions, Williams discussed the need for more interdisciplinary courses and learning collaborations. A practical example of this at CWRU is the many medical humanities classes such as medical anthropology that show the importance of liberal arts in applied zones. Other examples discussed involved the integrated studies of ethics and biomedical engineering in the field of gene editing. According to Williams, a lot of questions raised by science often aren’t technical problems but rather human problems needing to be solved by the humanities.

To encourage this view toward disciplines, both panelists stressed the need to have students involved in this process with interests in the humanities. Both agreed this was an effort to preserve the dignity of labor in the automated world of the future.

Vinson explained that this effort was to make CWRU a force of strategic planning for the future, and hence it is crucial for science, business, humanities and art to function hand in hand. Future Think Big Initiatives will focus on how CWRU can integrate the humanities, ethics, science, mathematics and professional education.