The Value of the Humanities

Alumnus John Chandler shares his thoughts about the importance of the study of the humanities and their relevance throughout life.

John Chandler (’66) fondly recalls his days on campus as an undergraduate political science major. Now a successful attorney in a thriving law practice, he has remained connected to his alma mater through membership on the Dean’s Advisory Board and continued financial support, including support for the University of Tennessee Humanities Center. A passionate advocate for the humanities, Chandler shares his thoughts about the importance of the study of humanities below.


John and Beth Chandler

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article (“Who Ruined the Humanities?”) noting that humanities majors have declined by half since the year I graduated.  It suggests we are better off reading the great works on our own. Yeah, right. Without the exposure, who picks up Ulysses?

Introduction to Art History, taught by Dale Cleaver, was the best course I ever took. How can art be appreciated without a few clues? I heard Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra on the radio last week and remember a wonderful quarter learning to hear the differences among violins (but not first and second violins), violas, and cellos and to distinguish the sound of a woodwind. Don’t laugh—my un-musical ear needed help.

The values inculcated by the humanities serve all walks of life. If you cannot write, your options are limited. Curiosity drives all professions. You don’t, I think, learn empathy from a test tube—not that there is anything wrong with test tubes.

My wife Beth and I support the mission of the University of Tennessee Humanities Center. Supporting sustained research and writing by professors and doctoral students—and perhaps even cross-disciplinary fertilization—offers untold possibilities. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses have natural constituencies for donors and grants. The humanities do not, but they mattered more to me than all the STEM courses put together. We’d like to do a little to support the center.

The pleasure that comes from museums and music has been with me since UT.  My kids (all grown) tease me when they get in my Ford F-150 pickup but then hear Symphony Hall on XM.

And Ulysses? My eldest and I decided to read it last year and celebrate Bloomsday—June 16, the day on which all of Ulysses takes place—at the Ulysses tavern, with readings from Ulysses and Irish folk songs. Although I was in the middle of a trial in Kentucky, we did it.