Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens

Bill Ladusaw, Dean of the Humanities Division (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

September 1965 was a good month for birthdays. As UC Santa Cruz opened its doors with high aspirations, on the other side of the country Congress gave birth to twins that reinforced those ideals: the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts.

In the founding legislation, Congress declared that an advanced civilization must give full value and support to all branches of scholarly and cultural activity "in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future. Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants." (P.L. 89-209, as amended)

Current events, from Ferguson to Paris, challenge us to reach for wisdom and vision: to move beyond reaction to thoughtful reflection, to wrestle information overload into informed understanding, and to reach for both sympathy for multiple perspectives and reasoned, critical response. NEH Chair (and UC Santa Cruz alumnus) William "Bro" Adams recently said in a PBS NewsHour interview, "The big challenges we face as a country revolve, again, around our history, our culture, our ideas and values."

The humanities seek an inclusive understanding and thoughtful construction of the human experience. The scholarly work of the university, its teaching and research, is appropriately "academic" in being free-ranging in its inquiry and disciplined in it standards of evaluation. Our mission of public service calls on us to share the value of this work with broader publics: to inform, to provoke reflection, and in the best-case scenario, to contribute to the development of wisdom and vision among citizens.

The calendar of upcoming 50th Anniversary events includes several humanities-related public events. On Tuesday evening, January 27, the Institute for Humanities Research will inaugurate a series of community conversations about Questions that Matter with "Making the Cosmos Local," at Kuumbwa Jazz Center. The following evening, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation will feature Angela Davis, professor emerita of history of consciousness and feminist studies. And on February 26, Anita Hill will visit campus to give a public talk on sexual harassment law and gender and race equality.  

I encourage you to attend one of these opportunities to engage with fellow citizens in the search for wisdom and vision. Humanities events are not just for humanities majors. Nous sommes tous humains.