Endowed gift boosts humanities education at UR

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A week ago, Arthur Satz’s appreciation for the humanities was made clear with a donation that could be a game changer for the university. It is the largest endowed gift ever to support the humanities at the university.

The undisclosed amount establishes the Arthur Satz Department of Music and funds a minimum of five professorships in the humanities within the School of Arts and Sciences. These professorships will help the school recruit, retain and recognize faculty who have made contributions in the humanities, UR says.

Arthur Satz in the 1970s.
(Photo courtesy of UR)

Honey Meconi, a professor at the School of Arts and Sciences and Eastman School of Music, is the first to receive the honor. The remainder of the professorships will be awarded over the next few years. Meconi has been named the Satz Professor for the Department of Music.

Satz graduated from UR in 1951 with a major in music. He held music faculty appointments at Vassar College and Yale University and later became president of the New York School of Interior Design. A proponent of an interdisciplinary arts education, Satz died in November 2018.

Over the last several years, the humanities and liberal arts programs have faced cuts. Programs have shrunk and funding has gone toward other fields of study focused on practical applications.

For example, in 2018, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point mulled dropping 13 majors in the humanities and social sciences—including English and sociology. It planned to add programs with vocational pathways in their place. Though widespread criticism nixed that plan, the threat to arts programs is real, especially amid declining enrollment and deficits at higher educational institutions nationwide.

In such times, a gift like the one from Staz brings relief and hope for the future, Gloria Culver, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at UR, believes.

The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Culver. Her responses are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: The gift goes toward building a music-inspired education. What does that entail at the University of Rochester? Would this be a new approach?  

Gloria Culver

GLORIA CULVER: The great Arthur Satz had a profound appreciation for music, and he importantly designated this gift to support this passion and more broadly the humanities at his alma mater, for which we are so grateful. Arthur clearly understood the value of the humanities to students in their preparation for a wide range of pursuits. And as educators we believe it’s a big advantage for our students in their professions and in living their future lives to explore areas such as literature, philosophy, and musical and performing arts. Our department of music certainly received a wonderful boost with this gift, and we are honored for it to bear Arthur’s name.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How do you plan to use the donation, in addition to the five full professorships and a named department?

CULVER: As I mentioned in the announcement of this gift, this level of support to the humanities is very rare for us, and we remain so grateful that Arthur Satz had this vision to support this area. Although we are not mentioning the actual amount of the gift, its magnitude and impact are significant and our plans include funding student ensembles, supporting faculty research, and adding and retaining faculty across these fields.  

ROCHESTER BEACON: Traditionally, the humanities is not the No. 1 choice for students who expect to enter the workforce after an undergraduate degree. At the same time, experts often remind students that the humanities “set you up for life.” How do you think students should view the humanities?

CULVER: With our open Rochester Curriculum, the university undergraduate educational experience really embodies a multidisciplinary approach that often includes humanistic studies, by student choice. Our curricular approach takes away the burden of having to choose, for example, between continuing to study the violin or conducting research on the biophysics of the inner ear. We also fully embrace the idea that the arts and humanities give you a historical and relevant foundation to understand 21st century life and to put current events into an intellectual context. 

ROCHESTER BEACON: Will this donation bolster the university’s strength in the humanities? If so, in what ways? Do you see that as a possible strength for the region?

CULVER: This gift guarantees that the humanities will be supported into the future and that the principles of a humanistic education remain part of the University of Rochester educational experience. The gift enables us to keep and build strength in the humanities when several other institutions are making cuts in this space. We are very fortunate to have Arthur’s gift and vision to help guide us.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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