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A Faustian bargain

November 26, 2010

Faust temptedIn a recent open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany, Gregory A Petsko (Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, Brandeis University, Massachusetts) offers a detailed defence of Arts & Humanities in an environment of cuts where finance and student demand dictate HE direction, as he describes it.

“I think you will find, in time, that you made a Faustian bargain” Dr. Petsko tells President Philip, who has just cut his departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts. He goes on to clarify that “Faust is the story of a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. The devil promises him anything he wants as long as he lives. In return, the devil will get – well, I’m sure you can guess how these sorts of deals usually go. If only you had a Theater department, which now, of course, you don’t, you could ask them to perform the play so you could see what happens. It’s awfully relevant to your situation. You see, Goethe believed that it profits a man nothing to give up his soul for the whole world. That’s the whole world, President Philip, not just a balanced budget. Although, I guess, to be fair, you haven’t given up your soul. Just the soul of your institution.”

Read the full letter, published in Genome Biology here.

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