National Commission Formed to Bolster Humanities and Social Sciences

February 17, 2011

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences unveiled on Thursday a new national commission on the arts and humanities. Its charge: to come up with recommendations on what Congress, universities, businesses, and individuals can do "to maintain national excellence in humanities and social-scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being," the academy said in a statement.

The commission, which will be led by Richard H. Brodhead, president of Duke University, and John W. Rowe, chief executive officer of Exelon, was formed in response to a request from four members of Congress: Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican of Tennessee; Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat of Virginia; Rep. Thomas E. Petri, a Republican of Wisconsin; and Rep. David E. Price, a Democrat of North Carolina.

Its members include high-profile figures in the arts, business, and law such as the filmmakers George Lucas and Ken Burns, the musician Emmylou Harris, and the former associate justice of the Supreme Court David H. Souter. Prominent scholars and academic leaders on the commission include Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, and Annette Gordon Reed, a professor of law at Harvard University, along with the presidents of Cornell, Harvard, New York, and Stanford Universities and of the University of Notre Dame. The commission expects to come up with recommendations and prepare a report over the next 18 to 24 months, the co-chairs said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

"When I go to other countries, I find that American higher education is looked at as the wonder of the world," Mr. Brodhead said during the call. "What I find people particularly admire is the liberal-arts basis" of that education. But that strength is threatened by a lack of support at home, he said.

The United States faces "a real challenge," Mr. Rowe said. "We have to find new ways to support and finance some of the things we took for granted in our own education."