The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently announced the formation of a commission to raise the visibility, status, and impact of the humanities and the social sciences. Good idea. It will probably be successful too, especially since the group is loaded with luminaries like university presidents, corporate CEOs, politicians, heads of major nonprofits, and serious professors. There’s even a token science type (an engineer, actually—Chuck Vest).
The effort complements a National Research Council project with similar goals for the sciences. It too has an impressive cast of commission members, as well as at least symbolic inclusion of one humanist (Hunter Rawlings, a classicist) and one social scientist (Roger Ehrenberg, an economist).
Both commissions are trying to answer the same question, which can be summarized as follows: “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in ______?” Fill in that blank with any number of subjects.
It will be intriguing to see what each group comes up with. I’m not sure that wholly new ideas are likely to emerge, but perhaps they’ll glean better ways to implement existing ones. A couple of questions occur to me:
- Will the simultaneous coexistence of two commission reports lead to the unfortunate consequence of placing the sciences in competition with brethren social sciences and humanities?
- Will Congress actually give a hoot given all the other issues currently on the docket?
- Will there be any effort to find common ground across the whole span of scholarship and knowledge, rather than broken down into disciplinary fiefdoms?
Perhaps someone could host a summit to address that last point. I modestly volunteer an eminent science/cultural organization: the Chemical Heritage Foundation.