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Saving the Flailing Humanities

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  • ‘It Is Still Ongoing’: How ‘Parade’ Takes On a History of Hate
  • Body Donors
  • Pay Workers Fairly

Credit…Lion Books, 1953/Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, via The New York Public Library

To the Editor:

Re “Don’t Kill ‘Frankenstein’ With Real Frankensteins at Large,” by Maureen Dowd (column, May 28):

Ms. Dowd’s column laments the decline of the humanities. Simultaneously, she definitively demonstrates that her exciting educational journey exquisitely prepares her, at a time when “political eloquence is scarce,” to hurl the most pointed slings and arrows so as to hit scurrilous actors where they hurt most.

A wondrous part of her column focuses on rarely used words that have magnificently descriptive meanings.

Perhaps, however, the obituary for the humanities is premature. I suggest that Ms. Dowd be placed in charge of a committee to find a new word. The word will mean “a hunger and craving for works of art and literature that have been produced in their entirety by humans, unaided by artificial intelligence.”

A thousand years from now, people will still relish going to a theater in which the actors are all human and performing works written by humans, even as down the block there are shows written, performed and produced by robots.

Joe Grossman
Boulder, Colo.

To the Editor:

Don’t worry, Maureen Dowd. The humanities are something young people naturally find fascinating in the quest to define themselves, but can’t justify spending time on because tuition costs require a direct return on investment.

Back in the heyday of the humanities when I went to college, a summer job was enough to finance a year of tuition. But also, a much smaller cross section of society went to college, often those who had money and influence to indulge themselves.

An emphasis on humanities scholarships, or free college tuition, as common in many countries, would help restore balance. But just as tech workers are rediscovering bread baking, sewing and woodworking, the humanities will be rediscovered by those seeking meaning and will rise again!

Nilgün Tuna
St. Paul, Minn.

To the Editor:

Maureen Dowd makes a fair point, but some degree of perspective is in order.

In the 2020-21 school year, the most recent academic year for which complete data is available, U.S. colleges and universities awarded 35,762 bachelor’s degrees in English, a number that exceeds the sum of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the physical sciences and science technologies (such as chemistry, physics and geology).

Adding degrees awarded in foreign languages, literature, linguistics and those under the category “liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities” brings the total to just over 93,000. That’s respectably close to the nearly 105,000 degrees awarded that year in computer and information sciences and support services.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that students majoring in all subjects regularly take elective and distribution courses in English and the humanities.

Dennis G. Hall
Nashville
The writer is the former vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Vanderbilt University.

To the Editor:

Among the many causes of the decline in interest in the humanities are the efforts to emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM programs have been very successful in creating educated talent for our technology industries. They needed to be successful to maintain U.S. competitiveness.

However, schools have limited resources, and the efforts to improve STEM courses draw resources and, most important, attention away from the humanities.

We need an equivalent effort to emphasize the humanities and their importance, which, for some, is harder to see than the importance of STEM. We need workers who understand philosophy and ethics to manage the many moral and legal ramifications of the technologies our STEM workers are creating.

We need English majors to help communicate just about everything. And we need history majors to become our diplomats and politicians to understand the past to better lead into the future.

David Lehman
Cambridge, Mass.

‘It Is Still Ongoing’: How ‘Parade’ Takes On a History of Hate

Credit…Nicole Rifkin

To the Editor:

Re “Starring in ‘Parade’ Has Taught Me About Hate and Hope,” by Micaela Diamond (Opinion guest essay, June 11):

It needs to be said that Ms. Diamond and the entire cast and crew of “Parade” deserve tremendous praise — not only for tackling the emotionally difficult and draining subject of antisemitism for more than 100 shows, but also for the incredible service they’ve done in continuing to raise awareness of the story of Leo Frank, who was lynched by an antisemitic mob in Marietta, Ga., in 1915.

Before rapt audiences and through testimonials like hers and those of other actors, “Parade” has reintroduced the American public both to the travesty of the Frank case and to the sordid history of hate in this country, where antisemitism and racism often have run hand in hand.

At the close of “Parade,” the words “It is still ongoing” flash briefly onstage. As testimony continues in the trial of the racist accused of gunning down 11 worshipers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and our televisions flash footage of white supremacists waving Nazi flags outside Disney World, there’s no more urgent takeaway from this production. We haven’t yet beaten back the demons that led to the tragedy of Leo Frank.

The lessons from his story are as urgent now as they were more than 100 years ago.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt
New York
The writer is the C.E.O. and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL was founded in 1913 during the climate of heightened antisemitism created by Leo Frank’s arrest that year.

Body Donors

Nivedita Ravi and Ryan Cohen, students at Columbia University’s medical school, performed in April at a gratitude ceremony honoring people who had donated their bodies to be studied in the school’s anatomy lab.Credit…Diana Cervantes for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Honoring the Body Donors Who Are a Medical Student’s ‘First Patient’” (news article, June 4):

The rituals of honor held for people who have donated their bodies to medical education reflect the admiration, respect and thankfulness medical students have for such donors.

My decision to donate my body to medical education is motivated by a desire to extend my life beyond death, not in some ethereal afterlife, but in the reality of this life.

My chosen profession as an educator will not suddenly screech to a stop at death. Rather, I will continue to teach past my physical demise through the donation of my body to medical education.

I consider my future participation in the education of medical students a sacred privilege. I urge others, regardless of their professions, to seriously consider participating in the education of future doctors by donating their bodies for medical education and research.

What a great way to enter eternity!

Peter Gilmour
Chicago

Pay Workers Fairly

Credit…Álvaro Bernis

To the Editor:

Re “Loving a Job Doesn’t Pay the Bills,” by Simone Stolzoff (Opinion guest essay, June 6):

Everything Mr.Stolzoff wrote in this essay also reflects the book publishing industry in New York. My pay barely increased when I worked in-house for more than a decade.

In the 1990s I went to work for a prominent consumer advocacy organization outside the city where I had to join a union. It was the only time in my life that I felt adequately compensated for the work I did. I had to fill out a timesheet and was paid on an hourly basis.

They couldn’t exploit my labor as the publishers had. As a result, I am completely pro-union.

Saralyn Fosnight
Chicago

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