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Bottum to be director of DSU CLASSICS Institute

Dakota State University will join a national conversation about liberty in a cyber-enabled society through the work of Dr. Joseph Bottum, who has been named director of a new Dakota State University institute.

A nationally known public intellectual and bestselling author, Bottum has written extensively on literature, philosophy and American religion. His books include the sociological study “An Anxious Age” and the South Dakota memoir “The Christmas Plains.” His writing has appeared in the “Atlantic,” “Wall Street Journal,” “Washington Post” and many other magazines and newspapers. He has served as literary editor of the “Weekly Standard” and editor of “First Things.”

At Dakota State, he will head the CLASSICS Institute, where “CLASSICS” stands for “Collaborations for Liberty and Security Strategies for Integrity in a Cyber-enabled Society.” The institute is one of 11 research and development clusters in DSU’s Madison Cyber Labs, or MadLabs, each focusing on a particular cyber issue.

“The CLASSICS Institute will act in many respects as DSU's think-tank, investigating technology’s impact on liberty,” said Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and director of the MadLabs. “The institute will suggest public policy choices and support corporate strategy making while keeping true to the Western notions of natural law, civic participation, property and privacy rights, markets, trade and mass communications,” she added.

The institute will also address the ethical issues created by the computer revolution over the past 40 years. “Our current situation requires serious thought about the nature of reality, the role of government and the formation of the social realm,” Bottum said. He will encourage developers not only to consider whether they can build a technology, but also to ask why they are building it and whether they ought to build it at all.

“Bottum brings a deep knowledge, an audience of readers and passion to develop a serious discussion about cyber-ethics,” said Dr. Ben Jones, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Dakota State. “His joining us puts Dakota State University at the center of the national conversation about these vital issues.” As an associate professor of philosophy, Bottum will be developing a new curriculum in cyber-ethics.

Drawing on such disciplines as philosophy, political science, law, economics, sociology and linguistics, the CLASSICS Institute will study the relation of technology to the humanities.

“The humanities component is an assertion that the great works of literature and art do not cease to have universal application just because we get them through computers,” Bottum said. They are important because “they better prepare us for living,” he explained. “We see the whole of life, from birth to death, in literature, philosophy and theology. And through those fields, we extend ourselves in time, having a future and a past, and living in more than the naked, impoverished present.”

The CLASSICS Institute will host special events and activities on campus while featuring publications on public topics. “Technology may be pushing us toward short-form writing in 140-character Twitter messages,” Bottum said, but “there’s a hunger for good writing.” He noted the popularity of the Kindle Singles series as an example of renewed interest in long-form journalism.

“Language is the greatest of all human gifts,” Bottum said, “and we have a responsibility to use it well.”

Bottum has a doctoral degree in philosophy from Boston College and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. He has been an assistant professor of medieval philosophy at Loyola University Maryland and a distinguished visiting professor at Houston Baptist University, while serving South Dakota as a board member for the National Music Museum. He was born in Vermillion, S.D., and is currently living in Hot Springs. He will begin his duties at DSU on August 21.