Faust Urges West Point Cadets to Study Humanities

University President Drew G. Faust stuck to her guns Thursday at the United States Military Academy, emphasizing the importance of the liberal arts to a crowd of about 800 cadets and faculty members in West Point, N.Y.

Faust’s recent trip reinforces her support of the U.S. military. In 2011, under Faust’s leadership, Harvard officially recognized the Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, ending a decades long detente with the program that began in the 1960s, when Harvard terminated its relationship with the military amidst student protest about the Vietnam War. Harvard also rekindled a relationship with Army ROTC, a program that trains undergraduate students to become military officers, in 2012.

Undergraduate students study at West Point to prepare for a career as an officer in the Army. Publicly funded, the Military Academy has produced a string of prominent generals and national leaders.

Introducing Faust, David Harper, an English and philosophy department head at West Point, praised Harvard’s president for her role in mending the long-troubled relationship between the two powerhouses.


“President Faust was instrumental in reinstating Navy and Army ROTC programs at Harvard,” Harper said.

Faust, in her lecture on “Leadership and Literature,” urged the cadets to study the liberal arts, arguing that the training a humanities degree provides is indispensable in the field of battle. She praised the selective military academy for its role in training future leaders, and added that the military is one of the few institutions that the public still trusts.

“Where there is no rulebook, turn to philosophy, to history, to anthropology, to poetry, and to literature. Take the wisdom and inspiration of the great thinkers and leaders who went before you, and then create your own,” Faust said.

Several members of Faust’s family served in the military, and her great-grandfather—a World War I general and U.S. senator—graduated from West Point in 1883.

Faust also quoted historical figures including George S. Patton, Frederick Douglass, and Winston S. Churchill, all of whom she said used the “interpretive and empathetic power of words.”

While she was on campus, Faust also ate in the West Point dining halls and met with professors and students at the school.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.