One of the humanities’ mainstays, classics, has garnered attention in recent years over racist tropes in ancient texts, problematic interpretations, and whether or not the field should be sustained in its present form. Dan-el Padilla Peralta has voiced the view that classics is “equal parts vampire and cannibal,” and is undeserving of a future in the academy. Responding to a somewhat different set of issues, yet aware of Padilla’s critique, Cornel West and Jeremy Tate on the other hand lamented Howard University’s announcement of plans to dissolve its classics department. They call this a spiritual catastrophe for all people, and especially for Black people.
The humanities encompass much more than the discipline of classics. Yet outside vexed conversations among classicists, the rest of the humanities seem often troubled too. Within higher education news, stories of crisis sprout about as often as dandelions in my lawn. “The humanities are not just dying – they are almost dead,” Justin Stover writes. Andrew Kay similarly claims, “The humanities are in the midst of an extinction event.”
In their new book, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age, Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon contextualize such crisis talk. While they do not deny difficulties faced by the humanities, they notice ways in which crises, for better or worse, have been central to the history and identity of the humanities:
We agree that even if most of the forces besetting the academic humanities aren’t new—vocationalism, managerialism, anti-intellectualism—the present moment is a particularly difficult one for humanities scholars and for all who consider themselves the humanities’ beneficiaries or defenders. At the same time, we think that crisis talk in the humanities is often peevish, self-serving, lacking in historical perspective, and antithetical to the careful thinking and scholarly virtues to which humanities scholars typically aspire.
Yet they go on to argue that “the self-understanding of the modern humanities didn’t merely take shape in response to a perceived crisis; it also made crisis a core part of the project of the humanities.” Indeed, each crisis that humanities’ advocates perceive they face turns out to be a crisis for which the humanities themselves are the answer. These cycles of crisis identification and response have, over time, reshaped the humanities. “Whose crisis? Which humanities?” are questions we must perennially ask in order to understand what is at stake.
At Baylor, we enjoy the good fortune of strong, longstanding commitments to the humanities. The Honors College is a reflection of those commitments, and though our work extends well beyond only humanities education, we all have something at stake in the questions and answers explored within such an education. It should be so, given our shared faith in Christ who was “in the form of God, . . . but emptied himself . . . being found in human form.” And if the Incarnation inspires worship of the God who is with us, it might also help us find a future for the humanities—and for humanity—in which crisis is replaced with confident hope that the author and perfector of our faith will bring us and our questions to completion.
Please attend to additional news and notes related to the Honors College, as follows:
- Thanks to faculty and staff who have completed a COVID-19 vaccination protocol and registered their status here. Our overall HC faculty vaccination rate is 94%, and our overall staff vaccination rate is 74%. If you are not yet vaccinated, you must complete twice-weekly COVID-19 testing as outlined here. For additional information, see FAQs about Fall 2021 twice-weekly COVID testing.
- If you were unable to attend Monday’s college-wide faculty and staff meeting, we missed you. New colleagues were introduced; service anniversary and outstanding faculty award recipients were recognized; 100 Days of Dante was highlighted; and priority goals for the year were discussed. In the latter category, I noted goals addressing strengthened collegiality, support for faculty and staff excellence, student recruitment and retention, research grant activity, and faculty and staff diversity. We ended with helpful conversation around COVID-19 mitigation and care for students.
- Accolades to Candi Cann, associate professor of religion in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, for her appearance as a featured expert on A Good Goodbye, the third installment of a three-part Patheos series on death and grief, entitled When We Die. I especially appreciate Candi’s critical observations about the medicalization of death and dying, professionalization of burials, and bureaucratization of bereavement. Well done, Candi.
- Baylor Connections, a weekly series broadcast locally on KWBU 103.3 and streamable on Apple Podcasts, introduces the Waco community to the people behind Baylor’s teaching, research, and distinct role in higher education. Host Derek Smith recently interviewed Sparky Matthews, clinical professor in the Honors Program. Give the interview a listen here and share it with others who will enjoy Sparky’s story of academic aspiration, professional accomplishment, and responsiveness to God’s call.
- Adding Emily Clark, director of communications, to the dean’s office opens up new means of outreach to nearly 4,000 Honors College alumni. Beginning this fall, Emily will help roll out a regular email newsletter that informs and inspires our alumni, donors, and friends. By engaging this group’s interest and strengthening their affinity for our work, I anticipate many good things will follow, including alumni advocacy, partnership, and financial support.
- To assist faculty seeking research or sponsored program grants, we are fortunate to have Angie McBurnett, university research administrator (URA), now assigned to the Honors College. Working out of the Leuschner Building alongside other URAs for the whole campus, Angie is available to support grant proposal development and submission, in addition to many other functions described here . For faculty with grant projects currently underway, note that Angie is taking over responsibilities previously held by Melanie Gunnels.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689