What (Public) Good Are the (Engaged) Humanities?

Gregory Jay, professor of English and director, Cultures and Communities Program, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, reflects on common achievements, problems, and opportunities among efforts to link campuses and communities to advance cultural development and social justice. Jay argues that connecting humanities research and teaching with projects to further democracy, social justice, and the public good can take advantage of the latest episodes of fiscal crisis, technology innovation, and mission drift, and presents a strong direction for revival. He considers questions of how we define the public, who belongs to it, and how digital media may be creating new publics. He also provides specific examples of academic centers, programs, and courses that link the humanities to public engagement.

Jay offers “Ten Key Points for Reflection:” (1) the political economy of higher education is such that engagement needs to be structured into the curriculum, not marginalized as “outreach”; (2) tenure and promotion criteria will have to be revisited and revised, with an insistence that engagement and publicly‐oriented humanities or art work are forms of research knowledge- production; (3) disciplines need to recognize the importance of “going local” in academic research; (4) successful community engagement requires critical reflection by faculty and students on diversity, multiculturalism, and their own identities; (5) projects should proceed by mapping community assets, not by assuming “deficits” in need of fixes; (6) sustainability means turning projects into partnerships and (7) institutionalizing engaged courses; (8) engagement in the curriculum means altering course goals, learning outcomes, and assessment strategies; (9) partnership projects mean new and different work‐loads for everyone; and (10) engagement can help campuses build bridges to underrepresented groups and neighborhoods and so help diversify the academy and increase educational opportunities for students of color.