Thorp discusses why the humanities are essential to American higher education

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Washington University in St. Louis Provost Holden Thorp delivered the 2014 Phi Beta Kappa/Sigma Xi Lecture on April 17 in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium.
(Sid Hastings/WUSTL Photos (2))

To a crowd that included students being inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, Holden Thorp, PhD, made a compelling case for a strong and vital humanities and the social sciences’ presence in American higher education. Thorp, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, said these areas of knowledge are necessary and are as important as the sciences and engineering.

Thorp gave many examples of why the humanities are essential for a 21st century education, including a clip from a Ken Burns documentary that featured “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, who said: “Science is the ‘how,’ humanities is the ‘why.’”

Jennifer Smith, PhD, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, introduced Thorp. Vincent Sherry, PhD, the Howard Nemerov Professor in the Humanities and professor of English in Arts & Sciences, moderated the Phi Beta Kappa ceremony.

The Phi Beta Kappa/Sigma Xi Lecture, held April 17 in Simon Hall, was the final Assembly Series program of the semester. Held annually, the lecture is part of the Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony. This year, 81 juniors and seniors were inducted into the prestigious society that celebrates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences.