Letter to the Editor: President Herbst is not neglecting the humanities in favor of STEM

To the Editors of the Daily Campus:

Sten Spinella was inaccurate when he stated in his recent column that President Herbst is neglecting the humanities in favor of STEM in her many initiatives as president.

In reality, with the president’s encouragement and support over the last five years, several humanities departments at UConn have become ranked in the top 10 percent of all departments in the country, as judged by external rankings.

She has consistently advocated for faculty hiring in the humanities, and her efforts have made a profound difference. For example, our departments of philosophy; anthropology; and literature, language and cultures are all in the top 10 to 12 percent of departments of their type nationwide at research universities.

UConn’s linguistics and educational psychology departments, also non-STEM departments, are ranked in the top 8 percent of all departments nationally.  

Faculty hiring has also been quite diverse, with many outstanding hires over the last several years.  For example, this year alone, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences hired three historians, one English professor, five professors of human development and family studies, one philosopher, two sociologists, and several other faculty in the social sciences (see the college of Liberal Arts website for a complete listing of new faculty this year).

When reviewing faculty hiring for fall 2016, UConn has hired 60 teaching faculty in non-STEM areas and 66 teaching faculty in STEM areas. Of these hires, 61 positions are tenured/tenure-track, with 33 in non-STEM areas and 28 in STEM areas.

The President and Provost’s office, along with the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, also support the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI). Founded in 2001, this institute, led by Philosophy Professor Michael Lynch, seeks to enhance research and creativity in the humanities. In particular, UCHI promotes the development and productivity of University of Connecticut faculty through its fellowship, seminar, and workshop programs, by bringing outside scholars and authors to Connecticut, and by its support for scholarly conferences and journals.

Professor Michael Lynch, who was recruited to UConn in 2004, is the author or editor of seven books, recipient of the CLAS Medal for Research and winner of several grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

His recent grant of $5.75 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation for The Public Discourse Project is another example of an external glimpse of how others view UConn’s commitment to the humanities.  The project is a research and engagement project examining the role that intellectual humility can play in meaningful public dialogue.

Another example of support for the humanities is the naming of English Professor Regina Barreca as an Engagement Fellow this year to continue her work as a public intellectual.

Across the university, we celebrate and embrace the work of our humanities scholars and departments.  These are only a few examples of the many ways that we care for and support Humanities individuals, whether they bring in large amounts of money or not.

Some STEM researchers bring in large grants and some do not. Some humanities professors bring in large grants and others do not.  They are all our faculty and we support and care for them in much the same way that we support all students, regardless of their academic majors or interests.

By the way, also as a point of clarification to Mr. Spinella’s column, the new NextGen Hall houses hundreds non-STEM students as well as STEM students in several of the living communities, including Innovation House, Scholars House, and even our Public Health House.

Another way the President and Provost support the humanities is through the creation of our IDEA grants for students, and each semester, the humanities are strongly represented in those who actually receive grants.

For example, in our most recent group of IDEA grant winners, over 20 percent of all recipients were students from the School of Fine Arts, who are creating puppet shows, handmade prints, developing studio paintings of Italy, body mapping, and writing comedy shows.

This grant program awards funding to support student-designed and student-led projects, including creative endeavors, community service initiatives, entrepreneurial ventures, research projects, and other original and innovative projects. In fact, over the last few years, 43 students were funded by IDEA grants in the arts and humanities projects funded.

One recent IDEA project that was funded was completed by Maneetpaul Singh Chawla, a recent graduate from the Stamford campus, who will be screening his documentary film, “They Called Me Osama” on Thursday, October 27th at 5 p.m. in Konover Auditorium.

The documentary features first-hand accounts of hate crimes, cyber racism, and bullying experienced by Sikh Americans, and aims to educate those unfamiliar with Sikhi on concepts that are often misperceived in post-9/11 America.

In closing, these are but a few of the many, many ways that President Herbst supports the humanities in efforts that touch faculty hiring, department enhancements and student research and life. And there are many, many more – and UConn students deserve to hear about them rather than accepting the incorrect comments and assumptions in the recent column as fact.

Sincerely,

Sally M. Reis
UConn Vice Provost for Academic Affairs


Sally Reis is the vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut. She can be reached via email at sally.reis@uconn.edu