Your February challenge

To: The Campus Community

From: Chancellor George Blumenthal

One of the perquisites of being chancellor is that I attend an array of events across campus and beyond. In any given month, I enjoy lectures, performances, workshops, and presentations that inspire, educate, and uplift me. Yes, it makes for some long days and late nights, but it's worth it.

Last week, alum William "Bro" Adams, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, spoke to a full house at the Music Center Recital Hall about the value of the humanities today. I particularly enjoyed hearing him discuss the shared founding principles of the NEH and UC Santa Cruz. Who knew our founding chancellor Dean McHenry and then-UC President Clark Kerr were also involved in the founding of the NEH?

Adams spoke eloquently of the lasting gifts of a liberal arts education, and my own path illustrates the intersections of humanities and science. In college, I wasn't thrilled about a history requirement, yet one of the most eye-opening classes I took was a course on the economic history of the United States. I still remember studying the railroad barons and learning that they essentially robbed their own country, yet they had profound and lasting impacts on the economic development of the United States.

Then, within a year of enrolling as a physics graduate student at UC San Diego, I became active in the anti-war movement and deeply interested in history. I read dozens of books about the history of the Far East and Europe, fascinated by the human element of history—the interplay of individuals and the forces of society. Would there have been a successful Chinese Revolution if Mao Zedong hadn't been born?

Today, history is more inclusive as modern scholars disprove the old adage that "History is written by the victors." And yet, history will always revolve around understanding the human condition and how we've gotten where we are today.

Literature, to me, is almost like an art form. It's distinct from the other humanities fields that way, while linguistics has both mathematical and cultural aspects. Philosophy, too, shares an interface with science. In my field of astrophysics, the theory of multiverses that emerged a decade or so ago is based on mathematical descriptions of how the world works. But without a test that would prove or disprove it, some ask whether the theory is science or philosophy. It's a worthwhile question—and a reminder of the artificial boundaries we sometimes draw between disciplines.

Bro Adams reminded me of the transformation I underwent thanks to the breadth of my own liberal arts education. My thanks to the Institute for Humanities Research and Anu Luther, who established the annual Sidhartha Maitra Memorial Lecture, for bringing him to campus.

And now it's your turn. Looking ahead, I see an exceptionally rich slate of programming this month, and I invite you to expand your horizons by attending one or more of them. Challenge yourself by choosing something unusual or unfamiliar. I bet you'll be glad you did.

Here are a few highlights of upcoming events:

One more heads-up: Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, will be here April 5. Stay tuned for details, and use our online calendar to keep up with events all year.

As always, feel free to write to me at