Duke President Brodhead receives Colbert fist bump

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 02:32 PM

Duke University President Richard Brodhead stood up for humanities majors on Thursday night’s “Colbert Report” and received a fist bump of respect from Stephen Colbert himself.

The move sparked excitement in the Twitterverse as Brodhead, an English major and William Preston Few Professor of English, discussed the summer report “The Heart of the Matter,” which calls upon lawmakers and educators to strengthen their focus on the humanities and social sciences.

Brodhead co-chairs the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, which authored the report.

“My guest tonight has been the president of Duke University for the past nine years,” Colbert announced to the crowd. “Why doesn’t he graduate and get a job?”

As they discussed the fact that Brodhead is an English major, Colbert remarked, “You went for the big cash.”

“And now I’m on your show,” Brodhead responded. He then received the famous Colbert fist bump.

The report, Colbert said, laments that people are not becoming humanities majors anymore.

“It’s not so much the decline,” Brodhead said. “There’s a hunger for the things humanities supply and people haven’t paid it that much attention.”

Brodhead said, on the most basic level, humanities can be described as humans studying the things that other humans have achieved.

So basically it’s about teaching children how to be human, Colbert said. “When I was a kid, you just kind of popped out of the womb and you just knew it, you had a feel for it.”

“Those were the days,” Brodhead said.

Colbert asked Brodhead if he would pay the humanities this much attention if he were president of a technical training institute. “Wouldn’t you be talking about the ineffable beauty of draining Freon from an AC unit?” Colbert asked.

The humanities commission includes members from different fields of study, Brodhead said, such as the CEO of Boeing and the former governor of Tennessee.

“All of them argued for the long-term value of what the humanities teaches,” Brodhead said.

Colbert slid “The Heart of the Matter” report across his desk and flipped it open.

“You sprung for the fancy binder, trying to get to a better grade,” Colbert said. “But I see something here, look at your margins, you’re clearly trying to stretch this.”

“All serious readers know that margins are to keep your notes in,” Brodhead replied.

The audience applauded. Students and others took to Twitter to comment on Brodhead’s conversation during the show.

Holly Epstein Ojalvo tweeted, “Lovely defense of the value of the #humanities by Richard Brodhead on Colbert. (And he's witty, too.) #englishmajorsoftheworldunite.”

Steven Brenner wrote, “My dad's reaction to Brodhead getting the Colbert bump was something similar to a teenage girl watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

Zachary A. tweeted, “watching this episode right now has given me the faith and hope this English major has needed. Thank you.”

To end the show, Colbert cited Brodhead’s expertise on the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, best known for the novel “Moby Dick.”

“That’s a big book, OK. I’ve got a beautiful copy of it,” Colbert said. “...Is Moby Dick a metaphor for the struggle of trying to read Moby Dick?”

“You missed your calling as a literary critic,” Brodhead said.