If we believe some of our politicians, a liberal arts education is useless because it does not lead directly to a job. I disagree. As I have argued before, and will argue again in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, the study of the liberal arts, and the humanities especially, is absolutely essential to the preservation of American democracy.
I am not the only one saying this, as evidenced from this article at Times Higher Education. Here is a taste:
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is aggressively advocating the importance of imparting “broad knowledge and transferable skills”. And the Council of Independent Colleges has established a Campaign for the Liberal Arts that will provide research and data to dispel stereotypes about the discipline.
“There is a new and heightened perception driving this trend that associations and organisations need to help the public better understand the value of the liberal arts,” said Laura Wilcox, the council’s spokeswoman.
The organisations contend that what employers really want from universities is not job training but graduates who can think critically, write and speak well, and solve problems.
“[Employers] say, ‘I want an engineer who can talk to people. I want an engineer who can write a memo. I want an engineer who doesn’t act like a goof.’ Everybody rolls their eyes when [employers] do that, but the data says they’re right,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
An AAC&U survey of corporate executives found that nearly 90 per cent want workers with verbal and written communication skills, 75 per cent are looking for graduates who understand ethical decision-making, and 70 per cent say they need innovative and creative employees.
“None of this is to [criticise] the disciplines of science and engineering and technology, but we also need to train people in the art of understanding the world around them, where they fit into society and all of those sorts of things,” said Norman Goda, a history professor at the University of Florida who has helped to organise a petition against the governor’s proposal to charge lower fees for “strategic” majors in high workplace demand and more for “non-strategic” – largely humanities – majors, such as history.
“I can’t predict the downfall of man if there are fewer history majors but the cumulative effect over decades would surely not be a good one,” he added.