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Humanities at the Community College

Today I gave opening remarks to a symposium called “Reimagining Borders and Boundaries within a Globalized World.” It is the culmination of a project on cultivating global competencies in the community college curriculum, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In a nod to the sponsor, I chose to speak about the state of the humanities at BMCC. I am posting my remarks here.


When talking about the humanities, I assume I’m like a lot of people and feel that I need to come up here and make a case for the utility of the humanities. To explain that, by studying the humanities, we give students in science and technology fields the “soft skills” they will need to be successful in the workplace.

But I’m sure that with this audience, I don’t have to do that. We know that the humanities serve a purpose in the market place of work that our students will enter or are already in. We also know that the humanities hold a central space in the market place of ideas.

And then many of us hold on to the idea that the humanities have value in and of themselves, and we don’t really want to defend their utility all the time.

So we can celebrate the place of the humanities in the community college, and I believe that place is at the center. That’s one reason that BMCC has recently joined the Community College Humanities Association. And so all of you faculty from BMCC are now members.

And speaking of our fabulous BMCC faculty, last night we recognized forty-five faculty members who had achieved tenure or have been promoted at BMCC in the last year. About twenty of them were in fields considered to be in the Humanities, or as the NEH describes them, “those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods.” Those fields include language, linguistics, and literature; history, philosophy, and art history.

BMCC faculty who were tenured and promoted in the last year were recognized at BMCC’s Fiterman Gallery.

In addition, every year the office of Academic Affairs awards research and publication grants to faculty, many of whom are conducting research in humanities fields. Studies have examined the literary careers of certain authors, aestheticism in popular culture, as well as autobiographical essays of growing up Chinese in New York City.

What I want to illustrate here is that the Humanities is alive and well at BMCC.

But I’m very proud to say that we are also pushing the Humanities in new directions at BMCC. In addition to your activity today and over the last year and a half, we have also had an NEH funded project to infuse Asian-American studies across the community college curriculum. That project, led by sociologist Soniya Munshi, involved BMCC faculty as well as faculty from Laguardia, Kingsborough, and the Bronx Community College.  They came from the disciplines of English, Japanese, communications, as well as the social sciences.

Our students have many opportunities to study the Humanities. BMCC has majors in Art History, Communication studies, Modern Languages, Writing and Literature, as well as interdisciplinary majors with significant humanities content, such as Gender and Women’s Studies.

On a personal note, and as a thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has supported your efforts, I’ll tell you that I was the recipient of a grant from the Minnesota Humanities Commission, and affiliate of the NEH, in the early 2000s that help facilitate my study of the writer Christopher Isherwood at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The grant supported the publication of a collection lectures that Isherwood gave to California colleges in the 1960s, that I published with the University of Minnesota Press under the title Isherwood on Writing. The NEH made that possible, and I will be forever grateful to my former home state and my nation for their support of humanities scholars. Long may it last.

So, the humanities aren’t dead. And they are not only represented in the curriculum as “general education” or as an “add on” to technical or science-based degrees. They are at the center, and that’s where they will remain.

 

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