February 25, 2014

DIALOGUES | Humanities: As Necessary Today as Yesterday

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By GRETCHEN RITTER

The great writer, literary scholar and Cornell professor, Vladimir Nabokov –– who also happened to be a scientist –– said in a 1962 interview, “During my years of teaching literature at Cornell and elsewhere, I demanded of my students the passion of science and the patience of poetry.” While the debates about STEM versus the humanities continue, I am left thinking about how great it would be if more institutions of higher learning embraced both in the way we always have at Cornell.

Upon my return to the College of Arts and Sciences to serve as dean, I was struck by what has remained constant in the thirty years since I graduated from the University. We have a strong, interdisciplinary academic community that is constantly generating new ideas. We have excellent, dedicated teachers who challenge students to expand their imaginations and sharpen their critical and creative responses to all they encounter. We enroll impressive, independent and diverse students and scholars who are on their own paths to discovery. The College of Arts and Sciences is — and has always been — a college of ideas, imagination and discovery, whether we are teaching chemistry, physics, government or Romance studies.

We often think that our grand challenges of the day rely solely on breakthroughs in science and technology. However, many of our greatest challenges are fundamentally human.

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