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Adams Lecture focuses on importance of humanities

Professor Joseph Flora thinks the humanities are as relevant as ever.

And before an audience of about 200 people on Sunday, he made his case.

The talk, entitled “Teacher! Teacher! Professing the Humanities in a Postmodern World,” was the 13th Adams Lecture in the Humanities and Human Values, a lecture given each fall by a distinguished scholar in the humanities at UNC.

It honors former philosophy professor E.M. Adams, who was a spokesman for the role of the humanities in contemporary education and culture.

Phyllis Adams, E.M. Adams’s wife, expressed her respect for the humanities department and said Flora’s talk was close to her heart.

“He was a wonderful speaker, and this is a great university that continues to do well in the humanities department,” she said.

Flora stressed the importance of educating students in the humanities at a time when the number of liberal arts degrees is decreasing.

“Humanities train students to see a different point of view and use effective language in speaking and writing,” he said.

He said the future of humanities lies with the young people who discover Shakespeare and Hemingway and keep them alive.

Doug Debaugh, an administrative assistant at UNC Law School, had Flora as his thesis adviser and still holds strong gratitude for the professor’s lessons.

“The impact he made on my personal life is the ability to write clearly and effectively,” he said.

“These are foundation skills that everybody will need whether they go into science, math or the humanities and that many students overlook.”

Flora said those who teach the humanities must work hard to convince the public they are not an expendable pleasantry and that they teach skills that enrich people outside of the classroom.

“I like when students major in both English and biology because that is life,” he said. “Some students think that the only majors that can prepare you for med school are biology and chemistry, but humanities are also very important.”

Flora said UNC should put more emphasis on the importance of humanities, but creating student interest is not solely the responsibility of the University.

“It’s tough for the University to encourage students to take more humanities classes because a lot comes from how they’ve been shaped in high school,” he said.

“Once at the University, their friends who may study humanities are the ones who should encourage those who don’t take the classes to do so.”

Flora also expressed frustration about students’ desire to learn about the humanities or even pick up a book.

“Students are caught up in the age of Twitter, e-mail, music, and they don’t see how they can expand the world,” Flora said. “They need to open their eyes to what’s around them and stay in the world more.”

Still, he said he finds comfort in those students who have great work ethic and make the effort to keep a bond with the professor.

“Our hope is in the best and the brightest,” he said.

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