Some University of Wyoming departments feeling left in the shadows of science and engineering are getting the attention of the UW Board of Trustees.
Trustee President Dave Palmerlee suggested the creation of a Humanities Initiative Exploration Committee “to begin to treat and look at humanities in the same context we’re looking at Engineering and the Education initiatives.”
Trustee Dave Bostrom will head the committee. The first step in the initiative is to find qualified and relevant people to take part with other trustees, but Bostrom is optimistic about the new exploratory committee.
“There’s a section of campus that feels forgotten about; I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said. “We can’t forget about the humanities, and to a certain extent, we haven’t put a lot of concentration on that.”
While the humanities initiative committee still needs to be organized, Modern and Classical Languages Department Head Joy Landeira is excited about the first step.
“It would be a wonderful idea,” she said. “Every university needs to have a humanities focus. You can’t just educate your students part-way — you need a well-rounded education, and humanities is a large piece of that.”
If continued, an initiative could raise many parts of Landeira’s department, and humanities as a whole, to a new level.
“It will help our students have an open mind to world cultures,” she said. “It will help our students improve their writing skills and communication skills. For the teachers themselves, it will lift up our research and give us more opportunities to study.”
While the term “humanities” can cover a large swath of collegiate programs, four programs are under the humanities umbrella at UW — English, Philosophy, Religious Studies and Modern and Classical Languages, Philosophy Department Head Franz-Peter Griesmaier said.
“We all talk with each other, but we have distinct differences in our approaches, so English and Modern Language are much more historical,” he said. “There are some differences, but there is also many commonalities.”
Because of the differences inherent in humanities programs, Trustee Mike Massie said any future initiative would need to be done differently than the Science or Education initiatives.
“We’re talking about a very broad range of subjects,” he said. “They all have their individual needs, even if they work closely together.”
The initiative would also need to work hand-in-hand with a strategic plan to be created and implemented when incoming UW President Laurie Nichols takes office May 16.
“If we can get something like this in place, I think it’d be wonderful,” Massie said during the trustees meeting. “But it’s going to take some thought and some time. We need to ask these questions and make these decisions in the context of the academic plan we’re going to be working on.”
Griesmaier said, even though the scope is wide, a humanities initiative could still work for all programs without picking favorites.
“I think there are some ways in which the humanities can be put into one initiative, but, of course, there would be different parts of the initiative that would be tailored to different disciplines of the humanities.”
Even if individual changes need to be incorporated, Faculty Senate Chair Tucker Readdy said the trustees will have lots of help.
“I think you would find an overwhelming amount of faculty who would line up and give you ideas about this initiative,” he said during the meeting.
Vice President for Academic Affairs David Jones also said the creation of the board will spark excitement in the related programs.
“Even the suggestion that we might be trying to do something to foster and support the humanities on this campus has been very, very welcome news,” he said.