During the past decade, public universities have undergone dramatic restructuring due to budget cuts and austerity measures, while a confluence of other trends continue to make the purpose of higher education a matter of intense public debate. Tuition increases, new technological opportunities, and the increased pressure for universities to serve as engines of economic growth have opened a national and international discussion about the value of higher education and the role of the public university in contemporary democratic society. These changes have affected all units of the university, but the debate about the value of public university education has focused largely on the humanities, which are often cast as a financial luxury that we can no longer afford. On April 16-17, the Humanities Institute is sponsoring Humanities and the Public University, a conference that will explore these changes and debates from a variety of perspectives – philosophical, cultural, and historical – belonging to the humanities. The goal of this conference is to yield a better understanding of current changes in higher education and to develop a rich range of responses.