April 17, 2006

C.U. Joins Two to Form Humanities Corridor

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Cornell will join nearby Syracuse University and the University of Rochester to form a “humanities corridor” in an initiative designed to foster collaborative research and inter-institutional exchange. Funded by $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Syracuse-led initiative will develop collaboration and scholarship in five thematic clusters: philosophy/linguistics, cultures and religions, interface of humanities and science/technology, visual arts and cultures and musicology/music history.

While the notion of universities establishing partnerships with one another has been a growing trend in higher education over the last several decades and while the three universities have long shared informal ties, the scope of this institutional partnership is unprecedented in central New York.

“This is going to create a very significant intellectual powerhouse,” said Robert Enslin, communications manager in the Office of Advancement for the College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse.

“We have three very huge private universities that are reasonably close to one another in central New York, and each of them has great strengths in some areas that are different than the strengths of the other two,” said Prof. Samuel Gorovitz, philosophy, Syracuse, who is involved with the interface of humanities and science/technology cluster. “By joining forces … it will be possible to catalyze opportunities that will enhance scholarship.”

Grant proposals of this nature – discussion drafts, which are typically submitted well in advance to obtain feedback – tend to receive a final response in six months to one year. Syracuse received the grant in six weeks, according to Gorovitz.

Although the humanities corridor will draw on Cornell’s resources and faculty, the University’s role in the partnership is still uncertain. The initiative largely falls under the aegis of Syracuse, where Gerry Greenberg, associate dean for the humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse, will administer grant funds. Syracuse spearheaded the grant application and planning process last year.

Senior associate dean Harry Shaw was not available for comment, and other Cornell officials involved with the project did not return messages left by the Sun.

Faculty from all three institutions plan to meet at the end of this semester to develop the humanities corridor, which will largely affect faculty and graduate students.

“There are a lot of suggestions so far, but nothing concrete,” said Prof. Tamar Gendler, philosophy, who attended preliminary planning sessions for the project several months ago. “One of the reasons that the topic was such an exciting one to work on is that Syracuse and Rochester also have outstanding philosophy departments … and there are already all kinds of informal contacts between faculty … there’s just a genuine overlap of work,” she said.

The philosophy departments at all three schools share a stellar reputation, and faculty and students have already established informal ties through participation in the Creighton Club, a regional philosophy organization. The philosophy/linguistics cluster is thought to be the strongest segment on which the humanities corridor will concentrate.

The schools will share impressive resources: Rochester’s recently acquired library of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School makes it one of the most extensive theological libraries in the continent and Syracuse’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Sibley Library of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music combine to form one of the largest collections of recorded sound. The partnership will also draw on Cornell’s vast Native American collection.

“It’s too premature to talk about very specific initiatives, although the one aspect that was highlighted on the grant application was the sharing of resources at the libraries of different schools, all of which have premier libraries and make it easier for people to utilize resources,” Enslin said.

Cathryn Newton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse, said she hoped the project would strengthen existing ties and foster new ones by including more scholars in collaboration and developing interest in more areas. Faculty will evaluate the project’s direction after each year.

“It is something that can strengthen the reputation of all three universities,” Newton said. “Central New York has a tremendous hub of scholarship right now in the humanities. There’s an increasing tendency in humanities for a kind of urbanization and centralization … it is therefore tremendously important to central New York to be understood as a place of a lot of vibrant humanities scholarship…”

Newton added, “If this project is a success, [people] should be able to look back on it in three years and see that where there was already a nucleus of very strong people there now emerges a kind of greater momentum.”

Archived article by Maya Rao
Sun Staff Writer