Though the humanities have long enjoyed a central place in American higher education, their core role in the life of the mind predates our first American university, Harvard, founded in 1636. As our 2017 Commencement speaker, Fareed Zakaria, notes in his book In Defense of a Liberal Education, the ancient Greeks and Romans devised a system of education that was much later codified within seven liberal arts. These were divided between those based within literature, including grammar, logic and rhetoric, and those based on mathematics, such as arithmetic and geometry. This division loosely corresponds to the humanities and the sciences of today.
The humanities are integral to Bucknell's broad educational offering. We need only look to our own graduates, such as last year's Commencement speaker, Spanish major Leslie Moonves '71, the chairman, president and CEO of CBS Corp., to see the value in teaching our students to use critical-thinking skills to evaluate information, to develop arguments and to clearly express themselves, verbally and in writing.
The central role the humanities play in Bucknell's web of learning will soon be expressed in a more tangible form as we progress with a plan we announced last summer to renovate and expand Demosthenean Hall, formerly the Delta Upsilon fraternity house. The closing of the chapter in 2015, due to lack of membership, presented an opportunity to ideally locate our Humanities Center in the heart of campus.
Support for such a facility is strong. In March, Zareen Taj Mirza '79 and her mother, Josephine "Dodie" Hildreth Detmer '52, generously directed part of a significant gift to the project — a gift we will recognize by naming the building in their honor. In addition, a space within the new building will be named for Moonves, who also graciously contributed a seven-figure gift to the facility. Both of these wonderful commitments serve as further evidence of the lifelong impact the humanities have on Bucknellians.
It's been nearly a year since we formally launched the Humanities Center, programming for which was funded in part by a $600,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. With Professor James Mark Shields, comparative humanities and Asian thought, as the inaugural director, we've made great progress in further elevating the profile of the humanities on campus: from an affirmative evaluation of our developing program by scholars from Emory, Wesleyan and Wellesley; to a successful lecture series on The Book: Past, Present, Future; to the advent of a Tuesday afternoon Humanities Symposium; to the funding of projects that emphasize faculty and student research and collaborations. As Director Shields has said, keeping the center's emphasis on faculty scholarship and student research reflects the character of Bucknell.
We continue to nourish our student's intellectual abilities by upholding the humanities, aware that minds trained to be flexible, discerning and creative will yield powerful benefits as our graduates advance in their careers and their lives.
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