Humanities in the Reimagination of Higher Education: Reflections on the ASHE Conference

It was such an invaluable opportunity for me to participate in the 2019 Association of the Study of Higher Education conference from November 14 to 16 in Portland, Oregon. It was my first time to participate in the conference, and I enjoyed the wide range of topics that were discussed, and hearing about ASHE’s dedication for social justice and diversity in the higher education arena. Such dedication was reflected in the themes of the sessions.

Most of all, the conference allowed me to meaningfully collaborate with my colleagues from diverse backgrounds and positions, and to share our grounded and innovative experiences in the CUNY Humanities Alliance Program and the Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership Program. From brainstorming our interactive symposium section entitled Higher Education for the New Majority: Community Colleges, Graduate Education, and Humanities, to delivering it at the conference, we acknowledged the significance of collaboration among diverse constituents including undergraduate fellows, doctoral fellows, academic professionals, faculty members, and researchers in constructing new knowledge in higher education academia as well as in the CUNY Humanities Program and the Futures Initiative. Thus, Christina Valeros (a fellow in the Futures Initiative Leadership Program), Juan Sebastian Sepulveda (a former LaGuardia Humanities Scholar), Micheal Rumore (a former Humanities Alliance doctoral fellow), Luis Henao Uribe (a former Humanities Alliance fellow and a current Andrew W. Mellon Humanities Scholar), Leigh Garrison-Fletcher (a LaGgardia Community College faculty member and a former faculty mentor in the CUNY Humanities Alliance), Kaysi Holman (Director of CUNY Humanities Alliance), Lauren Melendez (Director of the Futures Initiative Undergraduate Leadership), Katina Rogers (co-director of the Futures Initiative) and I shared our experiences and had discussions based on our concrete experiences and research following Katina’s guidance as our skillful moderator.

In our symposium, we discussed the following three important issues: (1) the significance of humanities and humanities-grounded democratic undergraduate leadership in the higher education landscape, (2) professional development for doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to prepare them to teach in community colleges, and (3) the partnership between the Graduate Center and the LaGuardia Community College in advancing the critical pedagogy of humanities for community college students. We also highlighted the crucial roles of undergraduate students as active members in constructing both the Humanities Alliance program and the Futures Initiative undergraduate leadership program.

The conversation also addressed challenges. In our group discussions, a participant, who introduced himself as a faculty member who also takes an administrative role at a community college, asked about our experience in applying and acquiring funding for the CUNY Humanities Alliance Program. He pointed out the limited funding opportunities, especially for enriching humanities even though they are essential in enhancing students’ critical consciousness, in-depth perspectives on higher education, career, life and society.

His comments about the limited funding opportunities for humanities resonated with one of the critical concerns discussed at the Mellon conference entitled, Bridging Humanities Across Disciplines, which was organized by the University of San Francisco in October 2019. Several conference participants shared their common concern about how to advocate the significance of humanities and humanistic social sciences in higher education under the dominant trends that illuminate the significance of higher education in terms of employability and the negligence of humanities with such a cultural climate. As if mirroring such concern about humanities, while there were 28 sessions at ASHE that included ‘STEM’ in their session titles, there were only two sessions where the titles contained the word(s) ‘humanities’ or ‘liberal arts’ in addition to our own session.

This year’s conference theme was ‘Reimagining Higher Education.’ In the keynote address, ASHE President Kristen A. Renn pointed out the dominance of the market’s thinking that accentuates competency within the frame of the job market. Indeed, the logic of the job market functions as one of the major influences that shape the value and mission of higher education. However, similar to how Kristen highlighted ideological diversity as part of the multidisciplinary approaches in higher education, I was also thinking of another significance of the humanities–especially for reimagining the value of higher education in the pursuit for human dignity, a life of quality, and social, cultural, political and economic justice.




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