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Staley to discuss a strategy for the humanities

David Staley visits SDSU Oct. 3
David Staley

When David Staley visits South Dakota State University in early October, he will be very busy. Staley, author of “Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education” will deliver “A Strategy for the Humanities in the 21st Century” Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. in the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center’s Founders Recital Hall. The talk is open to the public and there is no charge for admission.

The director of the Humanities Institute and director of the Center for the Humanities in Practice at The Ohio State University, Staley is also scheduled to speak to individuals within the Hilton M. Briggs Library and Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering regarding artificial intelligence, trends in higher education within their areas and workforce development.

“Dr. Staley’s work reflects the centrality of the humanities to higher education today. He challenges us to cross the boundaries between fields of inquiry and to question our assumptions about what the university could, or should, be for today’s society. His visit to campus will surely stimulate discussion among our students, faculty and members of the community,” said Lynn Sargeant, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Staley likes the challenge of talking to various groups.

“While it’s not unusual to do multiple talks, it’s a little unusual to do talks to these distinct groups,” Staley said. “I think it’s part of what intrigued me about accepting the invitation. Another reason why I was interested is that I’ve never been to South Dakota before.”

Staley’s talk came from an opinion/editorial piece he wrote several years ago and is the focus for an upcoming summit at Ohio State.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that the humanities are under siege and that’s not a recent phenomenon. One could argue the humanities have been challenged for 20 years, some would argue even 40 years. You can pick up the higher education press and there’s always a story about humanities departments being closed at such and such university,” Staley said. “The idea of strategy for the humanities is a push back at that narrative.

“Some of this idea comes from my background of doing strategic foresight and strategic thinking with organizations. I’m saying the humanities needs strategic thinking, strategic planning,” he continued. “The original name for the summit, and maybe this talk, was ‘The Future of the Humanities’ but my associate director said, ‘why don’t we think of strategy? It sounds more proactive, activist and forward-looking, in that sense.’”

Staley said humanities can revive itself in a university and in the larger society overall by a recommitment and a redefinition of what he calls the public humanities.

“When I say public humanities, I’m talking about something much broader than the traditional humanities programming,” he said. “I’m very interested in the impact of the policy world. For example, what role could humanists be playing that could help governments or other organizations? There is nothing that exists like a humanities think tank, where we could rethink the nature of our work, the audience of our work and impact of our work.

“I think the perception is that the work done in the humanities is inward looking and produces work read only by other specialists,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s true, but the perception exists. The future of the humanities is heavily dependent on how we are perceived and how active we are in the public.”