Sad news today that Bruce Cole—my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a great champion of American civic education and the arts and humanities properly understood—has died at the age of 79.
Bruce was a distinguished humanist, a scholar of Western art and literature, and a defender of liberal education. He headed the NEH throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, pushing back forcefully against the many noxious trends afflicting the academy. He launched the agency’s “We the People” initiative, to support the teaching of American history and ideals and an initiative to use great American works of art to teach our history in schools and libraries. He was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for that service in 2008.
In the years that followed, as a fellow at EPPC, Bruce worked tirelessly to advance the same causes, and to fight against the degradation of the academic humanities, of the teaching of American history, and of the role of public art and architecture in our country. He also ran the American Revolution Center and helped oversee its development of the (fantastic) new museum of the American Revolution, which opened last year in Philadelphia.
High among Bruce’s passions in recent years was a crusade to honor Dwight Eisenhower appropriately by stopping the construction of the hideous monstrosity of a memorial to Ike designed by architect Frank Gehry (and funded lavishly by taxpayer dollars) and replacing it with a duly modest and restrained public monument to the great man. This effort was a symbol of Bruce’s priorities and enthusiasms. He was a great believer in the power of the arts and humanities to shape our national character, and so sought to defend them from the perversities of many of their own practitioners for the benefit of the country.
Though the work he took on often involved such intense defensive fights, Bruce was at the same time a gentle and deeply decent man, and a wonderful friend and colleague. Our country was lucky to have him. And those of us who had the even greater luck of knowing him personally will dearly miss him.