At Davos, Yale stresses importance of humanities to developing global leaders

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Yale President Peter Salovey and Lonnie G. Bunch III of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Davos reception hosted by the two institutions.

A Yale delegation headed by President Peter Salovey joined representatives from research universities around the world at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum held Jan. 17-20 in Davos, Switzerland.

Yale and the other universities attend the World Economic Forum as members of the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF), to contribute ideas and take part in the debates and conversations among the world leaders who gather there. The GULF meeting at the World Economic Forum gives universities the opportunity to engage a larger pool of stakeholders, including the business community, in their discussions and initiatives to foster collaboration in areas of significance for global policy. The GULF agenda focused on two topics this year: the future of higher education and the role of science in society.

Many Yale alumni attend the event, as well as such Yale partners as the Smithsonian Institution, the Tata A group, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition to Salovey, other members of the Yale faculty in attendance included Robert Schiller, Beth Noveck, and Wendell Wallach.

The Yale president also took part in a Facebook Live chat with Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s acting provost and under secretary for museums and research, about the institution’s nearly century-old partnership and the importance of arts and humanities in today’s world. (Watch their talk below.)

That theme was also the focus of a reception jointly sponsored by Yale and the Smithsonian Institution, titled “Why the Humanities Matter Now.” The gathering explored how the arts and humanities help us to discover what is meaningful, what matters, and who we are as individuals, communities, and societies — and, therefore, how they contribute to the development of leaders for the 21st century. The latter message was in keeping with the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum: “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.”

Speaking at the reception — which also featured remarks by Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture — Salovey emphasized the ways that the humanities can promote understanding, such as how the study of languages can provide insights into a culture, reading literature can illuminate human motivations, and listening to music can teach you about your own emotional reactions, knowledge that can be applied to other life situations. In this way, he said, the humanities can provide the tools essential for responsive leadership.

BBC News reported on the reception and its counterintuitive message.

The reception also showcased by Yale alumni and Smithsonian affiliates talking about the importance of the humanities. The following are among the statements by Yale alumni featured at the gathering:

Yale alumni — including artist Maya Lin — and leaders from the Smithsonian talked about the benefits of studying the humanities in images created for the Davos reception.

“An education without the humanities would be like waking up on a desert island with no senses, no memory, no reason … lost in sand yet guided by the illusion of certainty. What an awful fate.” — Jodie Foster ’85 B.A.

“A grounding in the humanities can be vital for success in entrepreneurship and investing. It provides future leaders with a set of intellectual tools that helps them think critically, evaluate potential risks and opportunities, and make better business decisions for the long term” — Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A.

“… The humanities are fundamental to reason. Isolating data and technology from the humanities is like trying to swim without water; you can have all the moves of Michael Phelps, but you still won’t end up getting anywhere.” — Lei Zhang ’02 M.A., ’02 M.B.A.

“When democracy, freedom, and rule of law are under attack by forces of illiberalism around the world, the humanities are crucial for informing and empowering citizenship, shaping and restraining leadership, and defining and defending universal rights.” Hillary Clinton ’73 J.D. See more quotes from the series.

While at Davos, Salovey was also interviewed by Yahoo Finance for an segment titled “Yale president: Yale is more affordable than you think.”

Salovey also sat down for a discussion with the Smithsonian’s Richard Kurin, talking about the importance of arts and the humanities.

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