Letter from the Dean

Dear Friends:

On a blizzard-like Monday in February, Josh Cantor ’81 (history) drove from New Jersey to Ithaca to address history faculty and students -- many of whom were being inducted into the history honor society, Phi Alpha Theta. The subject of his address was why his study of history and other liberal arts helped to prepare him for a very successful future. He currently works as an executive for Apollo Plastic Corporation in New Jersey.

Not only did Josh Cantor speak powerfully about his experience in the School of Humanities and Sciences -- focusing particularly on the late professor Hal Emery’s influence on his education (formal and informal)-- but also about how his apparently unrelated coursework helped him to make the successful transition to the business world.

I thought of Josh Cantor recently a number of times, as I have the privilege of attending and often speaking at ceremonial occasions that honor humanities and sciences’ very talented students. And I suspect that many of these students understand the leap of faith that liberal arts graduates must take: many will go on to very successful careers, even as it is impossible to predict those careers upon graduation. (I know this from personal experience as well: my eldest son graduated with an English major and my youngest as a history major from the school’s honors program.)

What is the trait that liberal arts education, above all else, helps to instill in our students? I would suggest flexibility. Flexibility helps our graduates to think carefully and analytically and to express in writing and orally precise ideas that potential employers will recognize as sophisticated and intelligent. (My own discipline is speech communication. I am a tenured faculty member in that department in H&S. And perhaps that is why I am increasingly concerned about the pedestrian level of communication we hear all around us. At the risk of being snooty and condescending, never has it been truer, as the song in My Fair Lady states, that “an Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.”)

Our humanities and sciences students are highly accomplished and very talented, and that is demonstrated time and again by their many awards and achievements, whether in the art department’s senior show, or the student inductions into the Sigma Xi honor society, or the imaginative, entertaining, student-run program developed by the modern languages and literatures department that presents entertainment in each of the languages offered by H&S. At the core of these and other accomplishments is a devoted, highly intelligent faculty dedicated to student achievement through study in the liberal arts and sciences.

So, even as it is difficult to predict employment for many of our students upon graduation, I am confident that, with your help and support, we afford our students the best preparation for an uncertain world: solid grounding in the liberal arts and sciences.

Please enjoy this newsletter; it reflects the many dimensions of your school. And please, if you are of a mind, drop me an e-mail at herlich@ithaca.edu to tell me what you think.

Best wishes for a fulfilling summer.


Howard S. Erlich, Dean