President Brodhead on The Colbert Report

Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Humanities Writ Large

Duke President Richard H. Brodhead was on The Colbert Report to discuss "The Heart of the Matter", the report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Humanities & Social Sciences, which Brodhead co-chaired. He began by correcting Stephen Colbert, the host, for describing the report as a "lament" that "people aren't becoming humanities majors any more."

"The figures about who majors in what isn't the most important thing," Brodhead explained. "We're talking in favor of the support of a broad version of education that arches from the sciences to the humanities, that starts early and continues all throughout people's lives. That's what gives people the full set of equipment they need for employment, for personal pleasure, for all the things that education is meant to supply."

Brodhead was not fazed by Colbert's dismissive suggestion that as a "humanities guy" he was obviously going to stress the great importance of the humanities. The committee that wrote the report included the CEO of Boeing, a former governor of Tennessee, and the head of the country's largest community college. "All of them," Brodhead said, "argued for the long-term value of the kind of things that the humanities teaches."

"The former president of MIT, who's now the head of the National Academy of Engineer[ing], was on our committee," Brodhead continued, and "he says engineers need to do more than engineering, they need to be able to communicate in order for the full value of their education to come out."

Brandishing the report, Colbert countered that Brodhead and his committee had clearly "sprung for the fancy binder to try to get a better grade."