Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead will co-chair the newly established Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, Leslie Berlowitz, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, announced Thursday.
The national commission was created by the academy to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences, and includes prominent members from those fields as well as the physical and life sciences, business, law, philanthropy, the arts and media. Brodhead will co-chair the commission with John W. Rowe, chairman and chief executive officer of Exelon Corporation.
The commission's members range from musician Emmylou Harris, actor John Lithgow and filmmaker George Lucas to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, scholars, corporate leaders, policymakers and the current presidents of Harvard, Stanford and other universities.
"The humanities and social sciences provide the intellectual framework for the nation's economic, political and governing institutions," Brodhead said. "They enrich our lives and our understanding. Americans already appreciate the importance of math and science to our future; this commission will remind Americans of the long-term importance of the liberal arts as well."
At a phone-in news conference Thursday morning announcing the commission, Brodhead said the humanities were essential to solving social problems of the "present and future."
"For example, addressing the complex problem of health care requires understanding from medicine, nursing and economics, but also social policy and ethics and empathic experience, for which the humanities are a natural source of support. In an increasingly global world, we will need to understand the languages, cultural values and histories of all parts of the world. ...
"We need to make a case for the continuing dependence of this culture on skills trained in humanities. Argumentation, interpretation, analysis, assembling of data and assessing meaning - these are fundamental humanities-based skills."
Brodhead added that American higher education still remains preeminent in the world but that maintaining that status means supporting "all fields of knowledge together: math, humanities, arts and all the rest."
The commission was formed in response to a bipartisan request from U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Representatives Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and David Price (D-N.C.) to determine the "top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century."
The commission will draw on past research efforts, data from the academy's "Humanities Indicators" and the expertise of a multidisciplinary group of national leaders to recommend specific steps to maintain the nation's excellence in the humanities and social sciences. It expects to complete its work within the next 18-24 months.
An expert in 19-century American literature, Brodhead has written or edited more than a dozen books on Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles W. Chestnutt, William Faulkner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Richard Wright and Eudora Welty, among others. Before coming to Duke in 2004, he served as Dean of the College at Yale University and chair of the Department of English.