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Sunday, January 22, 2012

* Two Lectures at Netaji Bhavan

Picture courtesy: The Telegraph
On 5th January 2012, Prof. Diana Sorensen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Harvard University, lectured on the topic “Humanities in Higher Education.” She spoke of the anti-utilitarian ethos of President Eliot whose goal of learning for its own sake was the cornerstone of liberal arts education in Harvard. But the present crisis that humanities face of diminishing grants has heralded the advent of multidisciplinary studies whereby a scholar will be free to pursue both humanities and science streams for a holistic education. The benefit of such education has to be made explicit so that grant-giving authorities are satisfied about the wisdom of such investment. The lecture was followed by a conversation between Prof. Sorensen and Prof. Malabika Sarkar, the Vice-Chancellor of Presidency University, moderated by Prof. Sugata Bose, the Gardiner Professor of History in Harvard University, and then a question and answer session with the audience. Both Prof. Sarkar and Prof. Bose were in agreement with Prof. Sorensen about encouraging students to take up multidisciplinary studies and convincing corporate houses to provide scope of employment to such students. Prof. Suranjan Das, the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, who was in the audience, made a pertinent point that the effect of globalization is devaluing the importance of humanities studies, giving the example that when Calcutta University introduced a professional course in Management, the enrollment in Economics showed a sharp decline.

The cause of upholding the importance of Humanities education has been in discussion for quite some time now. Prof. Sorensen had expressed similar sentiments regarding humanities in her previous visit to Kolkata, about a year ago. Prof. Martha Nussbaum, of Chicago University, in her visit to Kolkata around the same time had also argued for Humanities. Earlier in 2010, Prof. Brinda Bose and Prof. Prasanta Chakravarty, both of Delhi University, had raised the alarm regarding the devaluing of humanities. Recently, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, has opened up streams for students to take up multidisciplinary studies. But the one question that remains unanswered is why not open up academics and employ faculty having multidisciplinary education. Being myself a science graduate with a doctorate in English, I feel like a time traveler, who has come from the future - a future of holistic multidisciplinary education as envisioned by the present lot of academics.

Picture courtesy: Netaji Research Bureau
On 17th January 2012, Netaji Research Bureau hosted the Sisir Kumar Bose Lecture 2012 delivered by Thant Myint U on the topic “Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.” Thant Myint U spoke on the geographical importance of Myanmar and the political situation in the country at present when the military rule is giving way to a quasi democratic setup. The positive steps taken by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and declaring cease fire with many insurgent groups have raised hope of a better Myanmar. In the question and answer session that followed Rudrangshu Mukherjee raised skepticism about the speaker’s hopefulness. Thant Myint U answered that this time round the drive of globalization through information and technology is having its impact on the Myanmarese population at the micro level which gives ground for hope that the country will not relapse into turmoil as in the past.