The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) is a good thing, but the recent conference it sponsored in Washington D.C., “Humility in Politics,” raises questions about the school’s motives.
This is due to the location of the event. Why hold an affair that would be so valuable to UConn humanities students (and students of all majors for that matter) in Washington D.C. rather than Storrs or Hartford? What was the logic behind this seemingly illogical decision? Shouldn’t such a high-profile event take place in Connecticut for the better of students, faculty, staff and citizens in the statewide community?
These questions only lead to confusion. What’s apparent, though, is that UConn has pull. Part of the $5.75 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation was used to fund the night, which was connected to The Humility and Conviction in Public Life project, headed by professor Michael Lynch. Herbst, Lynch, New York Times columnist David Brooks, New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb and many other people of political, academic and journalistic fame came out to discuss the frayed public discourse within the United States.
Basing such proceedings in Washington D.C. inevitably raises the university’s profile, but before arguing this would only be possible by traveling to a city like D.C., one might look into the past. UConn has brought Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, J. Cole, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Karl Rove, Seth Meyers, Amy Schumer, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, David Brooks, the Guerrilla Girls, Shakespeare’s first folio, Dan Malloy, Tom Foley and many, many other people and opportunities to its main Storrs campus, and to its students. Then comes the question: Why deprive students the opportunity of hearing from the thought leaders of this country, all at once, in a special event, hosted by university president Susan Herbst? Additionally, it’s possible that if the discussion had taken place in Connecticut, it could have improved the university’s reputation even more than exporting such an occasion.
UCHI has done a lot of great things that actually fulfill its stated purpose of bringing prominent thinkers to Connecticut, such as the forum on the presidential election held at the Hartford Public Library last week.
This time around, though, with its most attention-catching humanities event of the year, UConn opted for a national stage. The most likely answer, unfortunately, is that UConn organized the event to affect rankings and prestige, without giving priority to the UConn students, faculty, staff and larger community.