Letter from the Dean

Dear Friends:

Because H&S is appropriately termed the “heart” of the College (seven locations, 20 departments, 2,400 majors, 315 full- and part-time faculty, over 50 degree programs), and because, as many of you know, this will be my last KnowLedges report as dean, I take this opportunity to report on the significant strengths of our school—on the  health of the College’s heart.

Student reports through the recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) suggest that H&S students recognize and appreciate their H&S education. Important highlights from NSSE include “serious conversations” with students of different races or ethnicities, learning that “changed the way you understand an issue or concept,” thinking critically and analytically, and acquiring a broad general education. In short, H&S is achieving important goals, say the students.

Let’s look at the additions to the school’s rich curriculum. Ten years ago there were no writing, German studies, or Italian studies majors; more recent are the additions of Arabic, Chinese, and Latin language study through the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Other recent developments include minors in classical studies, Jewish studies, Latin American studies, and Native American studies. The environmental studies program is just now celebrating its 10th year anniversary, built from the ground up in H&S. We introduced two graduate programs in education. These additions and many others speak to the sophisticated challenge and wide range of opportunity in humanities and sciences.

A few years ago we decided to raise the profile of the humanities, and there has been a concerted, well-received effort to do that. The school’s Distinguished Speaker in the Humanities series kicked off with Robert Pinsky, then poet laureate of the United States. Very recent speakers have included Peter Singer, well-known animal rights philosopher, and David Zarefsky, nationally recognized authority on rhetoric and forensics. Other efforts included establishment of the Robert Ryan Professorship in the Humanities. Many of our programs have a deep tradition of public recognition of students’ accomplishments. Thanks to the generosity of donors to the school, this year we formalized a program titled H&S Educational Grant Initiatives, awarding 160 students over $26,000 for research and conference participation, and 20 grants to faculty and departments worth over $15,000, which impacted over 400 students. Student representation at the recent Whalen Symposium helped to focus attention upon the dozens of students who, with faculty sponsorship, presented original research in a public forum. The sciences and theater arts regularly put student work on display, along with the senior art show, displayed each May at the Handwerker Gallery.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the College’s decision to enlarge and make available to students from all schools the enrollment in what is now the H&S honors program is an important milestone, as is the College's Ithaca Seminar program, again modeled after the School of Humanities and Sciences First-Year Seminar program. In recent years, newly hired faculty increasingly come from other colleges and universities, not straight out of graduate school, which was the norm in previous decades. This fact alone indicates the increasing attractiveness to faculty of joining a widely recognized, high-quality college and school. In summary, though I continue to advocate strongly for the school, especially noting that additional space would elevate H&S’s ability to contribute maximally to the College, I am enormously proud of our programs and faculty and believe that the school's culture of dedication to its students continues to be the signature element responsible for the school’s success. The heart beats strongly. 

Enjoy the newsletter and be assured that I always appreciate hearing from you. My e-mail is herlich@ithaca.edu.


Howard S. Erlich, Dean