William & Mary

Face 2 Face

 An Occasional Conversation about Arts & Humanities in the Liberal Arts

Seven department chairs gathered in the Blue Room to continue their conversation about the role of arts and humanities
In September 2011, at an afternoon "retreat" of the A&S Dean's Advisory Council, the chairs of the arts and humanities departments sat around a table and started to talk.

"We were tasked with helping to articulate the academic priorities for fundraising at the College," said Teresa Longo, Dean for Educational Policy. "Once we started talking, we realized we had a lot to say to each other about the role of arts and humanities in the liberal arts – and in the world generally."

To continue the conversation, Longo invited the chairs to re-convene in mid-January for an hour-long forum, held in the historic Blue Room of the Wren Building.

“The Blue Room conversation was a great chance to uncover some of the questions revolving around the role of arts and humanities,” said Longo, who moderated the discussion. “We see real value in this kind of opportunity to reflect on what we do and explore these questions as a faculty.”

Seated around a large oak conference table, participants were invited to respond not as department chairs but as intellectuals in their respective fields. As the conversation progressed, a variety of themes began to emerge, many focused on imagination and interpretation.

Professor Catherine Levesque
Art & Art History
Professor John Donahue
Classical Studies
Professor Susan Donaldson, English
Prof. Silvia Tandeciarz
Modern Languages & Literatures
Prof. Anne Rasmussen, Music
Text: Face 2 Face Humanities Chairs
Prof. Laura Eckstrom, Philosophy
Prof. John Morreall, Religious Studies
Religious Studies
Prof. Joan Gavaler; Theatre, Speech and Dance
Theatre, Speech, & Dance

“How do the humanities teach students to develop a sense of self as an original and important thinker?” asked Professor Laura Ekstrom (Philosophy). “Students need to learn to protect that ability.”

Professor Joan Gavaler (Theater, Speech & Dance) agreed. “We need to teach students how important it is to stop and reflect, use imagination and generate new ideas. Students need to learn how to take a quiet moment and make it their own.”

Another conversation theme evolved around how to promote “introspective activism.” The group wondered: How do we take ownership for what we are as the humanities?

“We need to give students context outside the influence of popular media and music for what they encounter in the world,” said ProfessorWhere does the conversation go from here? There's clearly both an appetite and fertile ground for intellectual exchanges of this type Susan Donaldson (English).

“Students need tools to be better interpreters of all that is coming at them and still be able to be an instrument of change,” said Professor Silvia Tandeciarz (Modern Languages and Literatures). 

Professor Anne Rasmussen (Music) added, “Students have a sense that all knowledge is equal. How do we show students how to manage all the information that is coming at them?”

Where does the conversation go from here? There's clearly both an appetite and fertile ground for intellectual exchanges of this type. Professor Longo (Modern Languages and Literatures) has a few ideas about how faculty members can help to surface answers to the questions raised here. Stay tuned.