When a mathematician was named president of the University, a collective groan went up among critical theorists, literature scholars, and Renaissance historians. When that president named a physicist as provost, those groans hardened into cries of worry. The University had replaced a musicologist and an historian with two men of cold, calculating science. That the humanities and social sciences would more easily falter under their reign was a certainty; the only question was the degree of the damage.
With one major announcement last week, President Zimmer assuaged those fears by committing $50 million to support humanities and social science graduate students over the next seven years. This is more than a step in the right direction; it’s a statement that the University intends to be a major force in the humanities and social sciences for years to come. The Universitys rich liberal arts traditionfull of titans like Goffman, Arendt, Friedman, and Bellowwill not only be honored, but its students will be given the support they need to flourish.
The specifics of this commitment address many of the areas in which the University is weakest in comparison to its peer institutions. The state of graduate student healthcare used to be a source of campus-wide shame; now it will be a point of pride. Stipends for graduate study also lagged well below other institutions; now were competitive with the universities that we call our equals. A lack of funding will no longer affect the enrollment decisions of the next generation of scholars.
Graduate students, more than any other group, energize the Universitys intellectual life. By using money from our relatively limited endowment, the University has made a clear statement that funding graduate students in particular and funding the humanities and social sciences in general are top priorities. With this decision, the University has shown that it wont be miserly with its healthcare funding and teaching stipends, especially when they affect the quality and performance of its graduate students. In a world ruled by the life of the dollar, the University has bravely pledged its allegiance to the life of the mind.