Christopher Newfield penetrates 'humanities crisis'

Christopher Newfield penetrates 'humanities crisis'

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UI offers lecture by critical universities studies founder April 28

One of the country’s most energetic analysts of higher education funding, Christopher Newfield with the University of California, Santa Barbara, will ask, “What Are the Humanities For—in the 21st Century?” in a public lecture Monday, April 28, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A.

Newfield speaking
Christopher Newfield delivers a lecture. Photo courtesy of Newfield.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception at Prairie Lights’ Times Club.

This event winds up the University of Iowa Obermann Center’s Designing the Future series while raising powerful questions about our own future.

Newfield has such diverse interests and expertise that his talk may range from literature to economics and corporate culture to the roots of American education and current race relations, all filtered through the interpretive lens of the humanities.

Newfield’s curriculum vitae reads like an unlikely and yet amazing mash up of at least three different academics’ work. He has written a book about Emerson and taught on transcendentalism. He has edited a series of books and journal issues about higher education and writes routinely in the public sphere about educational policy, tuition, student debt, graduation rates, and the growing inequality between rich and poor colleges.

He also publishes articles such as, “Open Source Nano for the ‘Developing’ World,” and “Does Solar Energy Need a New Innovation Model? The Case of Germany.” This is not to mention classes he has taught on “Detective Fiction” and “Global Californiasm.”

A public intellectual and polymath, Newfield has multiple intellectual homes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is a professor of English and American Studies, as well as a member of the Center for Nanotechnology in SocietyCross-IRG Integrative Project group on solar energy.

In addition to his work at UCSB, he has served on system-wide committees for the University of California on budget, technology transfer, and industry-university cooperative research. Newfield regularly dances between all of these topics in his Huffington Post columns and on his blog, Remaking the University.

One of the founders of the Critical University Studies field, Newfield has published several books related to the current state of higher education, including Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard, 2008), Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980 (Duke, 2003), and the forthcoming Lowered Education: What to Do About Our Downsized Future.

In talks and articles, Newfield challenges the so-called “crisis in the humanities” and argues that within universities, the humanities fields need to budget and build their research infrastructure. Outside universities, he says, scholars in the humanities can offer clear, vivid arguments and examples of the roles the humanities and cultural leaders play in creating community-enhancing, non-commercial forms of innovation.

Newfield’s visit is sponsored by the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. The UI Public Policy Center and Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry are co-sponsors.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to attend this lecture, contact Erin Hackathorn in advance at or call 319-335-4034.

Conversation continues with documentary at FilmScene May 4

The week after Newfield's visit the conversation about the future of higher education continues.

On Sunday, May 4 at noon, FilmScene will present the documentary At Berkeley directed by Frederick Wiseman.

The Bijou Film Forum, the UI College of Education, and the Obermann Center will co-sponsor a panel discussion after the film featuring UI faculty members Christopher Morphew, executive associate dean for research in innovation in the College of Education and William Ming Liu, professor of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, from the College of Education and Frank Durham and Meenakshi Gigi Durham, professors in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Tickets are available at a reduced rate of $5 and can be purchased in advance at FilmScene, located on the pedestrian mall at 118 E. College St. in Iowa City, or at the FilmScene website.

For more information on the film screening, contact Hannah Rounds at


Erin Hackathorn, Obermann Center, 319-335-4034


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