JHU stu­dents fight to save Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter

School is re­view­ing fu­ture of 50-year-old depart­ment

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

Katie Boyce-Ja­cino stud­ies plan­e­tar­i­ums. Ger­man plan­e­tar­i­ums, to be pre­cise, in the 1920s, when gaz­ing at sim­u­lated stars cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion.

It’s work that doesn’t fall neatly into a sin­gle aca­demic field. But Boyce-Ja­cino found a com­fort­able home at the Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity, a small depart­ment that spe­cial­izes in dif­fi­cult-to-place projects.

“It’s the per­fect place for some­thing like this,” the doc­toral stu­dent said. “It’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally great place for you to ground your­self in a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and have the sup­port that lets you look at things from a bunch of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.”

But the 50-year-old Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter now faces the prospect of be­ing shut down at the end of the aca­demic year.

The dean of Hop­kins’ School of Arts and Sciences has launched a re­view of its fu­ture. The cen­ter’s sup­port­ers say they are be­ing un­fairly sin­gled out to jus­tify their ex­is­tence as part of a broader fight across academia about the value of the hu­man­i­ties in schools that in­creas­ingly are em­pha­siz­ing lu­cra­tive tech­ni­cal fields.

Bar­mak Nas­sirian, the fed­eral pol­icy direc­tor at the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of State Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties, said col­leges that are grap­pling with how to

Hop­kins’ Gil­man Hall with the philoso­pre­pare stu­dents for the work­force of­ten phy depart­ment, has moved on from those end up bank­ing on sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing roots. and other fields closely re­lated to par­tic­uThe cen­ter’s work is dif­fi­cult to sum­malar jobs. rize, but it re­volves around study­ing the

As­sess­ing how to pro­vide the best history of ideas and com­par­ing lit­er­a­ture ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant, Nas­sirian said, but from dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions. col­leges haven’t al­ways been rig­or­ous The cen­ter doesn’t of­fer a ma­jor, but about how they do it. does present un­der­grad­u­ate cour­ses, in

“We can’t be sloppy and look at the clud­ing stud­ies in Great Books. clas­si­fieds to decide what the next ma­jor The cen­ter has re­tained strong ties to should be,” he said. con­ti­nen­tal Europe. The bi­ogra­phies of its

Dean Bev­erly Wend­land de­clined to be grad­u­ate stu­dents are rich with the names in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle. In an emailed of ma­jor French and Ger­man thinkers. re­sponse to ques­tions, she said Hop­kins Sup­port­ers say its un­con­ven­tional aphas never been more com­mit­ted to proach leads to in­no­va­tive work. Wen­hu­man­i­ties ed­u­ca­tion. She cited the cred­land told the News-Let­ter, the Hop­kins ation of 20 new ten­ure-track pro­fes­sor stu­dent news­pa­per, that its per­son­al­i­tyjobs since 2009, and the formation of a led ap­proach is “such an un­usual con­new Hu­man­i­ties In­sti­tute backed by a $10 struct that it’s hard to re­ally fathom.” mil­lion do­na­tion. The cen­ter’s sup­port­ers or­ga­nized a

“Nei­ther com­mit­ment to the hu­man­rally on the Hop­kins cam­pus this week ities nor ‘re­turn on in­vest­ment’ is at is­sue that drew about 100 peo­ple, and have here,” Wend­land said. “What we’re dis­more ac­tions planned in com­ing days. An cussing is the way for­ward for one of our on­line pe­ti­tion has gar­nered about 4,000 10 hu­man­i­ties de­part­ments.” sig­na­tures, and aca­demics from around

Hop­kins of­fi­cials say the re­view, which the coun­try have writ­ten let­ters of supis be­ing led by the dean of the uni­ver­sity’s port. li­brary and is ex­pected to be com­plete in At the rally Thurs­day, some pro­test­ers De­cem­ber, won’t pro­pose a par­tic­u­lar held signs that cast the fight as a bat­tle course of ac­tion. be­tween uni­ver­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors and

In­stead, they say, it will dis­cuss the aca­demics, who are ac­cus­tomed to a views of mem­bers of the depart­ment and de­gree of free­dom to de­ter­mine their own oth­ers about its fu­ture, and sug­gest fu­tures. op­tions for the dean to con­sider. Matthias Lalisse, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in

Wend­land said in a let­ter to Hop­kins cog­ni­tive sciences, said he’s wor­ried that if fac­ulty and staff this month that her the Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter is shut down, de­ci­sion to launch the re­view was other de­part­ments could also be on the prompted by line.there­tire­mentoftwo pro­fes­sors in the cen­ter. Wend­land said she is con­sult­ing with

She iden­ti­fied three con­cerns about the Hop­kins’ fac­ulty coun­cil over the cen­ter. cen­ter: Its work might be driven too much She de­clined to say who had the fi­nal by its fac­ulty’s par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests; its au­thor­ity to shut­ter a depart­ment. name sug­gests a broader mis­sion than it Omid Mehrgan, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at ac­tu­ally has; and it has not done enough to the cen­ter, said the cen­ter is healthy and teach un­der­grad­u­ates. work­ing well and that it would be wrong

“This process has ab­so­lutely no pre­for uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials to “de­stroy or de­ter­mined out­come,” she said in her ma­nip­u­late it from out­side in an ar­bi­trary re­sponse to The Bal­ti­more Sun. way.”

The Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter, founded in “Clo­sure is a ter­ri­ble pos­si­bil­ity,” he 1966, takes credit for in­tro­duc­ing the said. strain of Euro­pean thought known as struc­tural­ism to the United States.

The cen­ter, which shares a floor in

ALGERINA PERNA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity hu­man­i­ties stu­dents and oth­ers hold a protest against the pos­si­ble clos­ing of the Hu­man­i­ties Cen­ter.

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