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Secretary of Smithsonian Institution Speaks on Importance of Humanities

On Thursday, October 31, 2013, the University of West Georgia served as the statewide host site for discussion on a national report titled “The Heart of the Matter: the Humanities and Social Sciences” conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. The UWG College of Arts and Humanities Second Annual Symposium on The Shape of the Humanities in Higher Education was the first site to host the discussion in Georgia.

Secretary of Smithsonian Institution Speaks on Importance of Humanities The symposium featured a panel discussion including G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, president emeritus of Georgia Institute of Technology and a member of the commission, Esther Mackintosh, president of the Federation of State Humanities Council, Rosanna Warren, award-winning poet and endowed professor at the University of Chicago, and Robert Schaefer, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Planning at UWG. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Federation of State Humanities Council, the Georgia Humanities Council and the Georgia Public Library Service sponsored and helped to promote the event at UWG.

“This was a signature event in the life of UWG,” Dr. Randy Hendricks, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “The insight of our panelists into the issues raised in the report advances an opportunity to think and rethink what we’re doing at UWG in terms of educating students—and in thinking and rethinking what some of our priorities are, or should be, with Complete College Georgia and our new identity as one of the state’s comprehensive universities.”

“The Heart of the Matter” report is in response to a bipartisan request from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who wanted to know actions Congress and others should take regarding the long-term sustainability and national excellence of the education in the humanities and social sciences. Each panelist provided brief remarks to open the discussion and offered their point of view as to what measures should be taken to protect the humanities.

“How do we connect those who are generally concerned with education, especially higher education, to those very busy with their own every day lives,” said Schaefer, in his opening remarks. “My goal is to talk about us.”

Mackintosh offered that part of the problem could be awareness, in that many people do not understand the meaning of the humanities and everything that the topic encompasses, and that the report is shedding light to remedy that. “A part of the issue is that so many people who really love the humanities, don’t know that’s what they love,” she said. “But so many people want to know what’s going to happen next in our society, and that’s humanities. I think another thing that people really hunger for is knowing that they are not alone, and that’s what the humanities really does for us. It shows what we’ve been through in the past or that there are others going through similar situations. That is comforting and people want that reassurance. They just don’t always know that it’s the humanities that provides that connection.”

Warren added that there are people even outside of education who desperately want to be part of the humanities. “In my wanderings, what I find is a huge hunger for and love for what we generally call the humanities in this country,” she said. “It is happening outside of the schools also. It’s happening in book clubs. It’s happening in movies. It’s people who come to poetry clubs and write poetry. It’s people who play in string quartets. We are wired to want to know stories and that’s the humanities.”

Clough challenged the audience to speak up and take charge of protecting the humanities. He made the point that change has to happen, and it needs to begin now. “I think the challenge is that it is going to take time, its not going to happen overnight and that is why this report is very important,” he said. “The report started something that didn’t exist. It started a dialogue. You can see that people want to understand what is happening. Now we have to step in and say we see it. We are shining a light on it and something has to be done about it. Like-minded people as well as other people who can be convinced need to get in the game. “

The Commission to create “The Heart of the Matter” report includes 53 nationally prominent representatives from industry, government, academia and the arts. The group is co-chaired by Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, and John W. Rowe, retired chairman and chief executive officer of the Exelon Corporation. Other prominent members include journalist David Brooks, filmmaker Ken Burns, poet Dana Gioia, musician and songwriter Emmylou Harris, actor John Lithgow, film producer George Lucas, musician Yo-Yo Ma, Boeing President James McNerney and former Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter.

The symposium was held during the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature’s 28th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference in the Humanities, which brought more than 100 scholars from around the state, nation and seven other countries to campus on October 31 through November 3. For more information on the University of West Georgia College of Arts and Humanities, please visit To view the complete Commission report, please visit

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