Patrick Rochelle: More support for humanities

Media Credit: Patrick Rochelle

Last week, University President Steven Knapp appeared before a House of Representatives subcommittee to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities requested for the next fiscal year.

After the sequestration hit earlier this year, the NEH may have to stomach hits to its budget. And as an institution that directly benefits from that funding, GW would likely be hurt.

In his address to the committee, Knapp argued that the history of this country is steeped in the humanities.

“We revere the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. We return again and again to the compelling logic of The Federalist Papers written by Hamilton, Madison and Jay. But those authors and those documents could have emerged only from a citizenry steeped in the study of philosophy, history, and literature: in short, the humanities,” he said.

At a time when state legislatures and universities are looking for ways to incentivize science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it’s reassuring to see Knapp tout the importance and relevance of the humanities.

But despite Knapp’s appearance in front of members of Congress, that’s not the message we are getting on campus.

At the same time that the University president is calling for more federal funding to be allocated to the humanities, he is also overseeing the construction of a $275 million Science and Engineering Hall, as well as a $75 million School of Public Health and Health Services building on campus.

It’s clear where the University’s priorities lie, and it’s not in the study of the humanities. GW is trying to attract top-notch scientists and engineers and raise its research profile, and to do that, it has to build a modern science facility.

Despite Knapp’s insistence that the humanities remain a cornerstone of this institution, his actions would suggest otherwise. I don’t doubt that Knapp means well, but he’s sending conflicting messages to the student body.

To bolster the presence of the humanities on this campus, Knapp has to rethink how the University promotes its programs. Humanities students should know that their interests are his priority.

For example, this past fall, GW launched a rebranding campaign. One of the main catch phrases reads, “Here, a stroke of genius can become a stroke of the president’s pen.” Another, which hangs on the side of Gelman Library, says, “In the White House or at GW, four years can change the course of history.”

The takeaway from these two lines is clear. Come to GW, and you can rub shoulders with some of the best political minds of the day. And if you’re lucky, you might just get to influence some policy decisions.

GW pins itself as a political hub and a center of business and finance decisions. The University’s message targets the country’s best policy wonks and budding business leaders.

But if Knapp truly wants to garner support for fields outside of public policy, international affairs, business and STEM, he has to strategically target students outside those fields.

A metro or cab ride away from the Smithsonian museums, the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library, this school is attractive to students who are interested in things outside the policy and business sector.

Calling for increased funding for the humanities is only a start. Knapp must do more than just plead to Congress.

Patrick Rochelle, a senior majoring in English, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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