Notre Dame’s Provost Defends the Humanities in a “High-Tech World”

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University of Notre Dame Provost Thomas G. Burish informs us that “only two of the top 50 public institutions for research-and-development spending in the humanities in the 2016 fiscal year devoted more than 5 percent of their overall R&D to the humanities, while 19 of the top 50 private nonprofit institutions did.”

Burish believes this is a problem.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Even at my institution, the University of Notre Dame, which ranked second among private universities in the dollar amount of its research-and-development spending on the humanities, we should do more. Rather than shun the “tyranny of relevance” — a concept within the liberal-arts community that refers to the need to demonstrate tangible benefits of humanities-research funding — we should embrace it. If we, like many others, believe in the vital importance of the humanities in grappling with basic questions of truth, the essence of humanness, and the importance of ethical decision-making, among other crucial issues, we must invest more.

If we do not, the humanities will be marginalized by the false premise that they provide nice flourishes but are not effective in dealing with the exciting and challenging advances made possible by the latest technologies. The humanities are neither opposed to technological progress nor indifferent to it; they are valuable partners in it, and must be adequately supported to perform that role.

Read the rest here.

Michael Roth on Steven Pinker’s *Enlightenment Now*

EnlightenmentOver at Inside Higher Ed Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University and a strong defender of humanities and the liberal arts, reviews Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

A taste:

In his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, Pinker expands his purview to include progress in everything from access to basic nourishment and health care to income and increased choices in how we spend our time. In every important area, Pinker sees robust improvement. The world is getting safer, more prosperous and less authoritarian. “Look at the data!” he cries again and again, and you will see that human beings have much to cheer about and much to look forward to. Evidence from surveys even suggests that we are happier — although not nearly as happy as we should be, given the progress we’ve made.

Pinker himself is not happy with colleges and universities, especially humanities programs, which, he claims, tend to emphasize the tragic, the negative, even the apocalyptic. He takes particular aim at Nietzsche and the streams of critical theory that flow from his thinking. Nietzsche’s antimodern polemics against smug, middle-class complacency especially rankle the Harvard University professor who can’t seem to imagine why anyone wouldn’t be grateful for the greater access to food, shelter and leisure that modernity has created.

There is plenty to criticize in Pinker’s historical portrait of triumphant modernity. He ignores any part of the Enlightenment legacy that doesn’t fit neatly into his neat, Popperian understanding of how scientific progress is made through disconfirming hypotheses. In describing progress in societies that behave more rationally, he says almost nothing about the social movements and struggles that forced those with power (and claims to rationality) to pay attention to political claims for justice. When science leads to bad things, like eugenics, he just dismisses the results as bad science. He criticizes those with whom he disagrees as being narrow-minded or tribalistic, but he seems to have no self-awareness of how his own thinking is plagued by parochialism. He writes that we have to cure “identity protective cognition,” but for him history is an effort to find figures like himself in the past so that he can write a story that culminates with people who have the same views as he. “There can be no question of which was the greatest era for human culture; the answer has to be today.” Maybe he thinks that the gesture of expecting an even better future is an expression of intellectual modesty.

But as much as Pinker’s self-congratulation may annoy anyone concerned with (or just curious about) the ways the achievements of modernity have been built through oppression, exploitation and violence, it would be a mistake to ignore the extraordinary accomplishments that he documents in Enlightenment Now. Take the astonishing reductions in poverty around the world. Over the last century, the portion of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced from 90 percent to under 10 percent. The acceleration of this progress in the last half century has been truly remarkable, and we can see similar good news in regard to decreased child mortality and increased life expectancy (to pick just two of the subjects Pinker covers).

And Pinker is right that many of us in the humanities and interpretive social sciences are loath simply to celebrate such gains when discussing the legacies of the Enlightenment or embracing contemporary critical thinking. Why? Part of the reason is that the story of those achievements should not be divorced from an account of how social injustice has made them possible. Humanists don’t dismiss the importance of reductions in poverty, but neither do they simply want to describe slavery, colonialism and other forms of exploitation as the price one has (always?) to pay for progress.

Read the entire review here.

Alan Jacobs on White Christian Males in the Academy

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Jacobs is responding here to Rod Dreher’s post at The American Conservative.  I was struck by this paragraph in Jacobs’s response:

I’m not exactly a pollyanna about these matters. I have said over and over again that, thanks to my long career at a Christian college and the specifically Christian character of much of my writing, I am almost certainly unemployable in my field (English literature) outside the world of Christian higher education. And there’s bigotry at work there — no doubt about it. On the other hand, I have been able to publish at some of the best university presses in the world, which also shouldn’t be possible if Rod’s friend’s account of the academic humanities is accurate.

Read the entire post here.

Is Jacobs right when he says that white Christian males are “certainly unemployable” in humanities fields “outside the world of Christian higher education?”

What Does a Humanities Professor Do When a College Cuts the Humanities?

Holy Names

Check out Nina Handler‘s moving piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Handler teaches English at Holy Names University, in Oakland, California.  The college recently cut several humanities majors, including English and History.  It’s website currently features a student playing golf.

Holy Names claims to be a a university “rooted in Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions.”  The Catholic college has also cut majors in Intercultural Peace and Justice, Latin American Studies, Music, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

Here is a taste of Handler’s “Facing My Own Extinction“:

Disturbingly, after our English major was eliminated, I discovered in conversations that several of my colleagues didn’t realize that there was a distinction between the freshman-writing program and the English major.

Times change, and institutions of higher education must change along with them. If no one wants to study a particular field, if it’s not filling a niche, it will die a natural death. This is evolution in action. I have no choice but to accept that the vast majority of students at my university don’t want to major in English. They don’t want what I have to offer. Instead, they want degrees in the health sciences.

Of course, my students and their worldviews don’t exist in a vacuum. They live in a culture that tells them in every way that STEM fields are where the money’s at and consequently are the only fields worth studying. They want to know — for the return on the gargantuan investment they and their families have made in a college education — that they will be able to get a well-paid job tied directly to their major.

Once education is viewed as a hoop to be jumped through to get somewhere else, people start assigning value to it in a way that privileges direct connections to prosperity and jobs they can easily see. With no sense that being an English major leads to any job but being an English teacher, students are “voting with their feet,” as my provost said when she canceled the major. Social Darwinism speaks of “survival of the fittest,” a victim-blaming phrase that has been distorted to justify socially constructed imbalances of wealth and power. If you can’t make it, it’s your own fault — or it’s just nature taking its bloody course.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Marco Rubio Changed His Mind About Philosophers?

Some of you may recall that Marco Rubio once had some pretty harsh things to say about philosophy and philosophers.  Has he changed his mind?

Make Texts Relevant to Students, Not the Humanities

BHI# 07-060 St. Mikes

Mark Bauerlein of the English Department at Emory University is absolutely correct when he says:

For most of my professional life, the future of the humanities was a conceptual matter. That’s no longer the case. When enrollments are down, majors are down, funding and jobs are down, adjuncts are up, and departments are being closed, abstract debates over which new theory or interdisciplinary vision is on the rise don’t much count. When a formation as renowned as the Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University is proposed for shutdown (it later was saved in modified form), we know that the prosperity of the humanities doesn’t rest with people at the top.

No, it depends on the people at the bottom, undergraduates who vote with their feet. If an English department’s chairman tells the dean, “We’ve got to hire someone in this new area of ____,” the dean replies, “But you can’t even get your existing courses half-filled.” If, however, a parent calls and grumbles, “I’m paying lots of money, and my daughter can’t get into any of the English classes she wants,” well, that calls for action.

It’s a situation that few humanities professors are equipped to overcome. Graduate school and assistant professorships don’t impel you to attract freshmen and sophomores. Instead you learn how to impress senior professors. But right now, nothing is more crucial than the preferences of 19-year-olds.

The measure of success for the humanities: Do undergraduates want to come?

And as humanities enrollments have slipped, in some places precipitously, instructors have felt pressure to make their courses more relevant and less rigorous. The typical student searching for a course of study won’t be attracted by syllabi filled with old plays and 400 pages of reading each week. Contemporary and multicultural materials, more media, less reading and fewer writing assignments, and definitely no poetry — that’s the prescription for building enrollments.

Read this entire piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I think this is particularly the case at smaller colleges where the humanities are struggling to survive.

NOTE:  The title of this post comes from a Facebook post on the Bauerlein piece by Western Washington University historian Johann Neem.

UW-Stevens Point Students Will Protest Cuts to the Liberal Arts

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We have covered this story here.  Chris Gehrz wrote about it much greater detail here.

It looks the students at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point will be staging a sit-in to protest the university’s decision to cut the following majors:  American studies, art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music literature, Philosophy, Political science, Sociology, Spanish.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Catherine Martin writes:

My son is a student at UWSP and is participating in this demonstration. The university also proposed something similar three or four years ago when my daughter was a student there. The students were up in arms at that time as well and the university system backed down at that time. We’ll see what they do this time.

Catherine also shared this article from Stevens Point Journal.  A taste:

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students intend to stage a sit-in of the campus administration building on Wednesday to protest proposed changes to academic programs.

The demonstration, called Save Our Majors, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.. Participants will gather at the sundial at 12:30 p.m. and then march to Old Main at 1 p.m. to conduct a sit-in for 13 minutes, a minute for each major that is up elimination under a university proposal. 

The student-led and -organized protest is in support of the 13 humanities and social science majors that the university is considering cutting in its proposal.

Outcry from the campus community and surrounding areas continues after UW-Stevens Point unveiled a proposal in early March to eliminate 13 liberal arts degree majors, including English, history and political science. The cuts of 13 majors and the additions or expansions of 16 majors are part of university efforts to deal with a projected deficit of $4.5 million through two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

After the sit-in, students will deliver a list of demands and requests to the university and then march back to the sundial, said Valerie Landowski, a 2014 political science and international studies alumna of UW-Stevens Point.

Read the entire piece here.

Wendell Berry Defends the University Press of Kentucky

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Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants to close the University Press of Kentucky.  Agrarian writer and novelist Wendell Berry, who lives on a farm in Henry County, thinks Bevin’s budget proposal is “petty and barbaric.”  Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Berry defends the press.  Here is a taste:

In defending the Press, I have in mind the geographic, economic and historical uniqueness of Kentucky. Perhaps no other state is so regionally divided as ours. Perhaps there is no other where the interests of agriculture, industry and urban development have competed so hurtfully. No other state’s experience of the Civil War closely resembled ours, and no others suffered its influences in the way we have. And so our need for books about our land and our people, our history and natural history, our political and economic life, is not going to be adequately served by the great commercial publishing companies, or by the university presses of other states. That need can only be served, and it has been admirably served, by The University Press of Kentucky. 

Because we have sustained that press for 75 years with a very modest investment of public money, we have The Kentucky Encyclopedia and Lowell Harrison’s and James Klotter’s New History of Kentucky, books that have the distinction of being indispensable to Kentucky students young and old; and we have in print books by James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Jim Wayne Miller, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Crystal Wilkinson that will be needed by coming generations of literate Kentuckians. Any concerned citizens who want to understand this state as it was and now is, and how it became what it now is, will find themselves immediately and continuously indebted to the University Press of Kentucky. 

Read the rest here.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point?

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First it was the University of Wisconsin-Superior, now it is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

UW-Stevens Point is expanding its programs in Chemical Engineering, Computer Information Systems, Conservation Law Enforcement, Finance, Fire Science, Graphic Design, Management, Aquaculture, Captive Wildlife, Ecosystem Design, Environmental Engineering, Geographic Information Science, Business Administration, Natural Resources, and Physical Therapy

They are discontinuing their programs in American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Read all about it here.

Let’s just call UW-Stevens Point a professional school.  It is no longer a university or a college.

I concur with philosopher James K.A. Smith’s Twitter warning:

Jamie: It’s already happening.

Messiah College Humanities Symposium: “Home”

Home Symposium

I have been thinking and writing about “home” for a long time.  So needless to say, I am looking forward to the Messiah College Humanities Symposium this coming week.  Here are some of the sessions I hope to attend during the week:

Thursday Night Keynote: “Home as Grief, Home as Us, Edwidge Danticat

Monday Afternoon: “Home, the Humanities and Higher Education,” Peter Powers, Dean, School of Humanities

Monday Evening: “Songs of Home”—faculty panel and performance with

Monday Evening:  “From Bible School to Grantham University: The Evolution of Messiah College”—faculty lecture Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Humanities

Tuesday Afternoon: “Finding Home: Housing and Travel in Segregated America, 1900-1960” David Pettegrew and students, Digital Harrisburg Initiative and Office of Diversity Affairs

Wednesday Evening: “Pilgrim’s Progress: Find Home for faith Through Journeys Into History”—history faculty panel discussion, Joseph P. Huffman, Bernardo Michael, David Pettegrew

See the entire schedule here.

It’s Happening Again

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From Publishers Weekly:

In its FY2019 budget proposal, unveiled today, the Trump administration has once again proposed the permanent elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, as well as the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (and with it virtually all federal library funding).

The proposal comes just days after the president signed a two-year budget bill that will add as much as $400 billion in federal spending through the 2019 fiscal year, and it doubles down on Trump’s efforts to eliminate the agencies in his FY2018 budget—which the House of representatives ultimately rejected last September.

Read the rest here.  Time to write another letter and perhaps make a phone call.

Want to Get a Good Job and Be Happy?

humanities

Go to college and major in the humanities.

A recent study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences is positive news for humanities students.  It reports on something we humanities folks already knew:  humanities majors get jobs, make good money, and live fulfilling lives.

Here is a taste of the report:

This report, based largely on original research commissioned by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators, examines a broader range of measures about holders of four-year bachelor’s degrees, including graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs, finances, and lives generally. The evidence shows that humanities graduates earn less and have slightly higher levels of unemployment relative to science and engineering majors. With respect to perceived well-being, however, humanities majors are quite similar to graduates from other fields. The data cannot explain the disparity between the objective and subjective measures, but they should provide a starting point for a more nuanced discussion about the relationship between field of undergraduate study, employment, and quality of life.

Learn more here.

Chris Gehrz’s Open Letter to Billionaires and Millionaires Who Want to Give to Christian Colleges

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In case you haven’t heard, an investor named Bill Miller just gave $75 million to the Johns Hopkins University philosophy department.  The money will be used to double the size of the department and create nine endowed professorships.  Money will also go to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  Read all about it here.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has written an open letter “to anyone with $75 million to give to Christian colleges.

The letter asks such a donor to consider two things:

  1. Give preference to the arts, humanities, and sciences
  2. Give preference to people, not buildings.

Here is a taste:

So consider endowing scholarships. Make it possible for at least a few students to come to their school of choice and pursue the studies that most closely align with their gifts, passions, and calling. Free them of the lifelong burden of feeling like they need to deny their vocation in order to maximize their salary and minimize their debt.

Or endow faculty chairs. Make it possible for at least a few professors to do their work — as teachers and scholars — without living in perpetual anxiety about how many students are taking their classes or how hard it is to demonstrate the practical value of their research. Make it possible for universities to keep their core disciplines somewhat insulated from the market pressures that tempt us away from our mission.

Miller’s gift to Johns Hopkins’ philosophy department, for example, will endow nine chairs, allow for the near-doubling of the philosophy faculty, and help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows continue their work.

If you’re in a position to do something at all similar to that… I’m not asking for a $75 million gift to the Bethel University Department of History. (Though I wouldn’t turn it away. Our development folks can be found hereOr email me to schedule a time to talk — believe it or not, I can say much more than what I’ve written here!)

Pick five such schools, or fifteen, and make smaller, still-transformative gifts that will allow them to fulfill their mission long into the 21st century. You will change the lives of students, and through them the world.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you with grace and peace, with wisdom and discernment.

Read the entire letter here.

More Good Reasons to Study the Humanities

59c16-i_love_humanities_tshirt-p235524076469557183trlf_400These come from Ilana Gershon and Noah Berlastsky at The Pacific Standard.

Here is a taste of their piece “Studying Humanities Teaches You How to Get a Job.”

“If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” Kentucky governor Matt Bevin declared in September, at a conference about higher education. Bevin’s skepticism about the humanities and arts isn’t an anomaly; politicians regularly joke about the supposed uselessness of non-STEM training. In 2014, President Barack Obama told students to major in trades rather than art history. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott of Florida said that it wasn’t of “vital interest” to his state to have students major in anthropology. And so on. Math, engineering, science, trades: Those are practical, politicians agree. Literature, art, and anthropology? Those don’t help you get jobs.

In fact, the reverse is true: The skills you learn in the humanities are exactly the skills you use in a job search. The humanities teach students to understand the different rules and expectations that govern different genres, to examine social cues and rituals, to think about the audience for and reception of different kinds of communications. In short, they teach students how to apply for the kinds of jobs students will be looking for after college.

Read the rest here.

Hire a Humanities Major

StrossCheck out Scott Jaschik’s interview at Inside Higher Ed with Randall Stross, author of A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees.  Stross has a Ph.D in Chinese history from Stanford and currently teaches business at San Jose State University.  (Yes, you read that last sentence correctly).

Here is a taste of the interview:

Q: Many admissions leaders at liberal arts colleges report increasing difficulty in making the case for the liberal arts. What is your advice for them?

A: If it seems difficult to make the case now, imagine how difficult it would have been in the depths of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was 16 percent and headed for 24 percent and market demand for liberal arts majors had evaporated. The talk in the air was of the need for more vocational education. Yet William Tolley, in his inaugural address as the president of Allegheny College, did not falter. He made the case for a broad liberal education in 1931 whose contemporary relevance should hearten all of us who advocate for liberal education. “Specialists are needed in all vocations, but only as long as their vocations last, and vocations have a tendency now to disappear almost overnight,” he observed. He reasoned that in an ever-changing world the broad knowledge covered at a liberal arts college is “the finest vocational training any school can offer.” The argument is no less powerful today. But to make it seem well grounded, admissions leaders should have at their fingertips stories to share of graduates who left their schools with liberal arts majors and have gone on to interesting professional careers.

Q: Politicians seem to love to bash the liberal arts, asking why various majors are needed. How should educators respond?

A: Many politicians — perhaps most politicians — view the labor marketplace in terms defined entirely by “skills”: employers need workers equipped with specific skills; students either arrive with those skills or lack those skills. This is new, historically speaking. In a bygone era, 60 years ago, many large corporations hired college graduates in bulk, paying little heed to their majors, and spent the first years training the new hires themselves. So the defense of the liberal arts today must be delivered using the vocabulary of “skills.” Fortunately, conscientious students in the liberal arts can demonstrate great skill in many things: learning quickly, reading deeply, melding information from diverse sources smoothly, collaborating with others effectively, reasoning logically, writing clearly. I will resist the temptation to point out the apparent absence of these skills among those who are doing the bashing.

Read the rest here.

“The Closing of the American Mind” at 30

ClosingAllan Bloom‘s bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, turns thirty this year.  Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, cultural critic and New Left activist Todd Gitlin reflects:

“You can slam its young people into universities with their classrooms and laboratories, and when they come out all they can talk about is Babe Ruth. America is a hopeless country for intellectuals and thinking people.” Babe Ruth is the giveaway. These words were spoken in 1923, and the speaker was Theodore Dreiser, who had dropped out of Indiana University after one year.

So it is not a new thought that American universities are nests of self-betrayal and triviality where inquiring minds trade the nobility of their tradition for cheap trinkets and the promise of pieces of silver to come. Indeed, five years before Dreiser popped off, Thorstein Veblen was denouncing “the higher learning in America” for having surrendered to business domination, ditched the pure pursuit of knowledge, cultivated “conspicuous conformity to the popular taste,” and pandered to undergraduates by teaching them “ways and means of dissipation.” “The conduct of universities by business men,” to borrow from Veblen’s subtitle, had rendered university life “mechanistic.” Veblen anticipated that the academy would wallow in futility when it was not prostrating itself at the feet of the captains of finance. His original subtitle was A Study in Total Depravity. Veblen having dropped it, Allan Bloom should have picked it up.

Veblen thought the university had been seized by “pecuniary values.” To Bloom, whose bestselling book, The Closing of the American Mind, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, something much worse had happened: The university had been seized by the absence of values. “The university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. He finds a democracy of the disciplines. … This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is.”

A horde of bêtes noires had stampeded through the gates, and the resulting noise had drowned out the proper study of both nature and humanity. Nihilism had conquered. Its chief forms were cultural relativism, historicism, and shopping-mall indifference, the humanities’ lame attempts at a holding action that “flatters popular democratic tastes.” Openness was the new closure; elitism had become the worst of all isms.

Read the rest here.

Historian: “The challenges this country faces are a direct result of abandoning the humanities”

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Over at the Washington Post, Queens College, CUNY historian Katherine Pickering Antonova argues that the United States “has forgotten the value of the humanities at the moment it needs them most.”

Here is a taste:

Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “In school, rarely do we learn how data become facts, how facts become knowledge, and how knowledge becomes wisdom.” A librarian replied, “Hi Neil, That’s literally what we teach. Thanks for the shoutout! Sincerely, The Humanities.”

When a champion of critical thinking like Tyson is unclear on the very purpose of the humanities, it’s fair to say higher education is facing a public relations crisis, a reality also highlighted by the recent Pew Research Center poll showing that a majority of Republicans believe higher education has a “negative effect” on the country.

This is a serious crisis. Universities face untenable budgets and a dire faculty job market at the same time the public is questioning the value of a college education in light of rising tuition and student loan burdens. But the transformation in public attitudes toward universities is not based on a concrete loss of value: Higher education continues to correlate with improved employability and incomes. U.S. universities continue — for the time being — to maintain a global competitive edge.

Read the entire piece here.

Neem: “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

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Kentucky governor Matt Bevin

Back in June, we published a post on Kentucky governor Matt Bevin‘s endorsement of a bill allowing the Bible to be taught in the state’s public schools.  I later published a shorter version of this post at Religion News Service.

Governor Bevin is back in the news after his said that the state’s public universities should cut programs that are not “helping to produce” a  “21st century educated workforce.”  Bevin urged university administrators in his state to “find entire parts of your campus…that don’t need to be there.”  He singled out “Interpretive Dance.”  Back in January, he singled out “French Literature.”  Bevin wants to put money and energy into growing engineering and other STEM programs at Kentucky universities. Ironically, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage of Bevin’s remarks, the governor has an East Asian studies degree from Washington and Lee University.

Sadly, the interim president of the University of Louisville, Dr. Greg Postel, seems to agree with the governor. Postel told the Lexington Herald-Leader that his university’s engineering program is growing, making Bevin’s ideas for funding more STEM initiatives a “natural fit” at Louisville.  “Universities have to be aware of where the jobs are,” he told the Herald-Leader, “and that has to advise us as to which programs we choose to grow and put our resources in.”  If I was a humanities or liberal arts faculty member at Louisville I would be up in arms right now.  Postel has no clue about two things:  1) college education is more than job training and 2) liberal arts majors contribute to the economy and do a variety of jobs.

Check out Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage here.  It includes several faculty members who have pushed back.

Western Washington University historian Johann Neem is not mentioned in the Inside Higher Ed article, but back in February he responded to Bevin’s earlier comments on STEM. Neem believes that “science” should not be part of the STEM equation.  As he puts it, “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

Here is a taste of his piece at the blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education:

In theory, there are two major faculties on American college campuses, those who teach in the liberal arts and sciences, and those who offer professional education in such fields as business, education, engineering, social work, and various health fields. The two types of faculties are not necessarily in opposition, but they have different missions because they are oriented toward different goals.

To faculty in the arts and sciences, undergraduate education is liberal in nature​ — it is about gaining a broad knowledge ​about how the human and natural worlds work, because doing so can inspire students and because it serves a broader public good to have well-educated adults. Ideally, and often, there is no specific vocational outcome to these majors. In fact, to ask a history, English, biology, or geology major, “​What are you going to do with that?” ought to be irrelevant since these are academic disciplines designed for academic purposes. When majors were first established, their goal was not job training but to offer intellectual depth ​and balance or, better put, to enhance a general education. Thus, majors in the arts and sciences exist for their educational purposes with no real or necessary relation to market needs.

Professional faculty, on the other hand, train people for specific jobs. Their success is measured by whether their students gain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment in specific fields. Students who major in engineering, for example, are right to ask their programs, “​What can I do with that?” Moreover, students who choose to major in these fields may not receive the same kind of liberal education as those in the arts and sciences. Instead, they seek a direct line to employment. These fields, in other words, are tied closely to market needs.

The rhetoric of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) seeks to professionalize science faculty by reorienting their core community of identity. The sciences are not job training but part of liberal education. Math is a humanistic pursuit. Ideally, faculty and students in the sciences and math have different goals, perspectives, and aspirations than those in engineering and technology-related fields. Traditionally, science and math faculty have identified themselves with the broader purposes of the liberal arts, of which they are a part.

The more we use the term STEM​ — in praise, condemnation, or simply as a descriptor​ — the more we divide the arts and sciences faculty from each other. The arts and sciences exist as the educational core of the undergraduate collegiate curriculum. They are tied together conceptually. There is in fact no difference, from the ​perspective of liberal education, in choosing to major in philosophy or chemistry. Faculty in both disciplines, in all the arts and sciences, believe in the value of intellectual pursuit, in fostering curiosity about the world, and in graduating students who have breadth and depth. Yet, increasingly on campuses across the United States, colleges of arts and sciences are dividing into two units, the humanities and social sciences in one, and the sciences and math in another.

Neem concludes:

The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences. For many policymakers, this is no doubt desirable. Yet, if faculty in the sciences and mathematics are not careful about how they identify themselves, they will be party to the erosion of the ideal of liberal learning, of which they remain an essential part. If faculty in the humanities and social sciences are not careful, they will find themselves marginalized as the sciences abandon liberal education to join forces with market-driven technology and engineering programs. If Americans are not careful, we will soon find that we have fundamentally changed the purposes and goals of collegiate education.

Read Neem’s entire piece here.

Humanities in a “Tech World”

59c16-i_love_humanities_tshirt-p235524076469557183trlf_400Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist at North Carolina State University.  In this piece he explains why the humanities are needed in a “tech world.”

Here is a taste:

 

There’s another reason for the relevance of humanities in our current world. Some thinkers say the application of the next level of technology to human use will require a cultural change, and developers of new technology will have to understand this cultural shift in order to be successful.

Robots and driverless vehicles are good examples. Although it’s fun to think of these tools in abstract, when they become a reality, how will we react? Robots and driverless vehicles mean a shift in control and power from humans to machines that we have never experienced before. How will we react? Will robots and driverless vehicles be commercial successes or financial flops because people couldn’t adapt to them?

Obviously developers and manufacturers want to know, and who better than to guide them than individuals who have studied human culture – that is, those who have studied the humanities.

There have already been studies indicating a new found appreciation of humanities experts in today’s high-tech economy. Many companies have discovered humanities majors make excellent managers and decision-makers.

So in the race between the STEMS and the HUMIES (my short-cut for the humanities), it may be too early for us to decide who will come out on top!

Read the entire piece here.

Humanities: Liberal and Conservative

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Check out Damon Linker’s piece at The Week: “The real reason there are so few conservatives on campus.” First, it is worth mentioning that Linker thinks the claims about the small numbers of conservatives on university campuses are overblown.  There are plenty of conservatives in professional schools, business schools, and even in the social sciences.

When people talk about the lack of conservatives on campus they are normally talking about the humanities: English, literature, philosophy, history, cultural studies, etc…

I teach at Christian college and I can think of less than a handful of humanities faculty who would identity as “conservative.”  (Though somewhat unrelated, I can only think of a handful of humanities faculty who would call themselves “evangelical.” If you read this blog, you know that I remain one of them.  When you put the self-identified “conservatives” together with the self-identified “evangelicals,” the number shrinks to maybe two or three faculty members at the most.  But I digress).

Linker believes that there are so few conservatives in the humanities because universities, especially larger research universities, tend to value progress.  Research agendas are usually about discovering something new about the world.  Conservatives do not always think about the humanities in this way.

I will let Linker explain.  Here is a taste:

Professors are trained as graduate students to become scholars — and scholarship in our time is defined as an effort to make progress in knowledge. The meaning of progress in the hard sciences is fairly obvious. But what does it mean to make progress in our knowledge of, say, English literature? One possibility is to find obscure, previously neglected authors and make a case for their importance. (This could be described as making progress in knowledge by way of expanding the canon.)

Another possibility is to bring new questions to bear on old, classic texts. But where will those new questions come from if not the concerns of the present? This is how professors end up publishing reams of studies (and teaching gobs of courses) on such topics as “Class in Shakespeare,” “Race in Shakespeare,” “Gender in Shakespeare,” “Transgender in Shakespeare,” “Intersectionality in Shakespeare,” and so forth. To tease out those themes in texts that have been read, studied, and debated for centuries certainly constitutes progress in knowledge, since those who publish the research have said something genuinely new about something old and familiar.

One reason why conservative scholars tend not to conduct this kind of research is that they’re not especially interested in questions of class, race, gender, and related issues. But that’s not because they’d prefer to achieve progress in knowledge by bringing a different, more politically conservative set of questions to bear on classic texts. (“Supply-Side Economics in Shakespeare”? “Hawkish Foreign Policy in Shakespeare”?) Rather, conservatives are usually drawn to the study of the humanities with a very different goal in mind — nothing less than pursuit of the timeless human wisdom they believe can be found in the great books of the past. What kind of research and teaching does this motivation produce? Studies of, and classes in, such topics as “Love in Shakespeare,” “Friendship in Shakespeare,” “Justice in Shakespeare,” “Death in Shakespeare,” and “God in Shakespeare.”

These are classical subjects that centuries of people have written and thought about while reading the great playwright and poet. What’s new to say about them? Probably nothing. Instead, reflecting on such themes entails a rediscovery of knowledge that past readers may have possessed but that must be reacquired by every reader, by every student, anew.

By definition, that’s not “progress in knowledge,” since it denies that a contemporary scholar necessarily knows more on the subject than a reader from a previous century. It presumes that the only form of “progress” is each individual’s advancement in coming to understand the perennial problems and puzzles of the human condition, and it looks to great writers of the past for help in acquiring that understanding.

Read the entire piece here. I think Linker is on to something.