“There is no functioning, stable, globalized world of the future without the humanities”

GLobal commerce

Karen E. Spierling is an associate professor of history and director of global commerce at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.  She believes that the humanities must “go on the offensive.”  Here is a taste of her piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

It is time for humanists to go on the offensive. Not by shoring up our silos or rejecting collaboration with nonhumanists. Not by insisting that the nature of the humanities is somehow unchanging across time and place and, thus, of ineffable and universal value. And not by giving in to the pressure to reduce the goals of our teaching to producing students who can manage both spoken and written communication effectively. (This is certainly an inherent product of humanities teaching, but not an isolated goal.)

Instead, we must make clear what we ourselves already understand: There is no functioning, stable, globalized world of the future without the humanities.

A world based on the constant global exchange of information, goods, services, and money depends upon an increasing need to rapidly access another person’s or organization’s point of view, cultural assumptions, and social norms. In a world where exchanges of all kinds rely on technology and big data, some of the greatest potential pitfalls come not in the numbers but in the interpretation of those numbers, the communication strategies needed to carry out initiatives based on those numbers, and the relationship-building areas of all types of work.

Functioning effectively in a globalized society — in business, politics, medicine, education, daily interactions with immigrants in one’s own community, or daily interactions with locals in the community into which one has immigrated — requires the skill of rigorous, critical, empathetic thinking.

Not just run-of-the-mill empathy. Not a wishy-washy definition of empathy that reduces it to natural feelings or emotions. Not just instinctive “people skills.” Not some kind of imagined empathy that depends on a person’s inherent ability to listen well and think from another person’s point of view. Not touchy-feely but uninformed sympathy for “those less fortunate” in other parts of the world. Instead, navigating this globalized world requires sophisticated, well-honed skills of empathy.

Rigorous, critical, empathetic thinking. How else are we to understand the experiences and points of view of co-workers, trading partners, or colleagues who live long distances from us? There are limits to global travel, and those limits are becoming more glaring as our climate-change crisis picks up speed. There are limits to technology — even with all of its benefits — and to how we communicate through video chats and instantaneous texting. There are limits to how much time and energy we can invest in moving to another place and immersing ourselves physically in the cultural practices of another society.

Read the entire piece here.

Are “once robust” humanities fields being “broken up and stripped for parts?

Why Study HistoryCarnegie Mellon literary critic Jeffrey J. Williams writes about hybrid fields such as digital humanities, environmental humanities, food humanities, medical humanities, legal humanities, business humanities, and public humanities.  He calls these fields “The New Humanities.”

Here is a taste of his piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

From the outside, the rise of these various new fields might seem like a sign of evolutionary progress for traditional disciplines. Still, in many cases, the humanities don’t have equal standing with the applied disciplines; they’re more like a garnish, an add-on, valued only insofar as they link with and augment those other disciplines. Thus, these yokings tend to quell the independent, critical role of the humanities as an interrogative force for human values, principles, and history. A coal-company-funded engineering project, for instance, might be glad to hear about the heroic image of the miner in art and literature, but it is unlikely to welcome questions about labor and capitalism. In their effort to accommodate other disciplines, the humanities themselves may be co-opted and lose the very critical independence that defines them. 

Read the entire piece here.

The digital humanities and the public humanities are useful fields, but they are not disciplines in and of themselves.  As I have said before, interdisciplinarity starts with a grounding in the disciplines and their specific and unique ways of thinking about the world.  It will be a tragedy for liberal education if the disciplines are replaced by these hybrid fields and majors.  Some might say that the “New Humanities” is the wave of the future and we all need to get on board.  If this is so, I will probably go down with the ship.

Every Humanities Faculty Member at a Christian College Should Read This Piece

Crown

Call it “Quit Lit” or something else, but this is a powerful and moving piece by former Crown University English professor Michial Farmer.  A friend who sent the essay to me called it “uncomfortably honest.”  I would agree.  Farmer bares his soul and, as my friend says, we are like the priest behind the curtain.  But I think we in the humanities, especially those of us at Christian colleges, can relate to some his story.

Here is a taste of “Two Forms of Despair“:

There is real freedom in resignation: For the last several years of my teaching career, I suffered a variety of annoying and humiliating medical symptoms: phantom gallbladder pain, heart palpitations, strange twitches of the nerves in my big toe, several months of constipation. When I took them to my physician, he inevitably told me that I was doing it to myself, that these were physical manifestations of my anxiety that my classes wouldn’t have enough students to run, that my college would close, that no other college would ever hire me. But symptoms of anxiety form a kind of feedback loop, and I’d lie in bed panicking that I had gallstones, a heart attack, multiple sclerosis, colon cancer—anything to avoid facing the truth that I was trying to live in a world that didn’t exist, a world in which it was possible for a person like me to be a great success teaching English, of all things, at an evangelical college, of all places. Every year, I stared out over the abyss, and hope sprung eternal as I sent out dozens of applications to state schools, overseas universities, and more prestigious Christian colleges; every year, the abyss stared back at me in the guise of form letters or, more often, a cold and mechanical silence.

I remember the last straw. I’d applied for a job at a noteworthy religious college in the Pacific Northwest, a job I was quite qualified for in a department where I knew someone. She wasn’t on the search committee, so she helped me with my application, which I spent weeks perfecting. The school rejected me during the first round; they didn’t even interview me over the phone. They sent the rejection email on a Friday night at midnight. Something broke off inside of me, and I needed two sleeping pills to fight through the jungle of catatonic anxiety and fall asleep. A few months later, my provost called me into his office and told me that I was “banging my head against the wall” by trying to turn my college into the sort of place I’d want to teach. There was no way out, and no way to improve the inside. My final physical symptom appeared: a lump in my throat so large and solid that I couldn’t wear a tie anymore. Magically, it went away after I resigned myself to the fact that a career in education was not in my future.

I don’t think cynical people go into humanities education—or if they do, their cynicism is a screen to protect them from the low financial and social rewards their thirteen years of higher education require. They—we—do it because we believe in the power of art and thought to transform lives and the world. And yet it’s a cliché at this point to talk about the failure of universities to support the noble goals of humanists, religious and secular alike.

When I went into graduate school, I believed that the Christian college could be a useful, vital counterweight to the forces of professionalization and politics that have rent the humanities at secular universities. I imagined the Christian college as a sort of monastery wherein all areas of study, but especially the humanities, find meaning and context in the shared beliefs and practices of the community. I hope I won’t sound petulant if I point out that most Christian colleges, perhaps all of them, have failed to live up to that vision—which may have only been another of my fantasies in the first place. I don’t blame them; the armies threatening the Christian liberal arts are led by Republicans and Democrats, atheists and evangelicals. Administrators have to be practical if they want to save the jobs of their faculty members and the real good their institutions are doing in the world. When my provost told me I was beating my head against the wall, I think he meant that I was trying to live in a world that can no longer exist, if it ever could have. He wanted me to resign—not resign from my job, I think, but resign myself to the idea that I could not get what I wanted from my job. He was seeking my good.

Read the entire piece at The Front Porch Republic.

The History Major is Back at Gordon College

Gordon College

I received this today from Gordon’s office of Marketing and External Relations:

The Political Science, Philosophy and History departments will be merged into one administrative department, and all department faculty worked over the summer to revise their curriculum to better meet the needs of incoming students across these three disciplines. Gordon will continue to offer majors in these disciplines as part of a comprehensive liberal arts education. The philosophy major will now include four concentrations (of which students must choose one): political theory; justice, peace and conflict; law; and language and linguistics.

It appears that the stand-alone History Department at Gordon is gone, but the major will remain.  Some of you may remember that Gordon announced last Spring that it would be dropping the major.  We wrote about that here and here and here and here and here.

Kate Shellnut mentioned this in a piece at Christianity Today earlier this month, but I missed it.

Economists Make the Case for More History Majors:

ShillerOver at The Washington Post, Heather Long calls our attention to Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller’s new book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events.  Here is a taste of her piece:

As humanities majors slump to the lowest level in decades, calls are coming from surprising places for a revival. Some prominent economists are making the case for why it still makes a lot of sense to major (or at least take classes) in humanities alongside more technical fields.

Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s new book “Narrative Economics” opens with him reminiscing about an enlightening history class he took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He wrote that what he learned about the Great Depression was far more useful in understanding the period of economic and financial turmoil than anything he learned in his economic courses.

The whole premise of Shiller’s book is that stories matter. What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy. Examples include the “get rich quick” stories about bitcoin or the “anyone can be a homeowner” stories that helped drive the housing bubble.

“Traditional economic approaches fail to examine the role of public beliefs in major economic events — that is, narrative,’ Shiller wrote. “Economists can best advance their science by developing and incorporating into it the art of narrative economics.”

Shiller, who is famous for predicting the dot-com crash and coming up with the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, is spending a lot of time looking at old newspaper clippings to understand what stories and terms went viral and how they influenced people to buy things — or stop buying things.

When asked if he’s essentially arguing for more English and history majors, Shiller said, “I think so,” adding: “Compartmentalization of intellectual life is bad.”

Read the entire piece here.  Of course I have been making this case here and elsewhere for a long time.  We need more story-tellers!

Gordon College Gets a $75.5 Million Donation

Gordon College

Will the Christian “liberal arts college” use the money to bring back the history major?

It does not look like it.

Here is a taste of Kate Shellnut’s reporting at Christianity Today:

The historic investment in Gordon comes as the school undergoes what Lindsay called its most significant academic restructuring in 50 years. Last spring, the college announced plans to consolidate certain majors and departments to better match student demand. For example, political science, philosophy, and history were combined into a single department, though each will remain a distinct major.

In addition, the school said it would expand graduate programs, partnerships, and online education. A $10 million donation made in May helped fund Gordan Global, a platform for online education through its new School of Graduate, Professional, and Extended Studies.

As a result of the changes and budget cuts, 17 faculty members and six staff members were laid off, and more than a dozen other unfilled positions were eliminated.

While some alumni as well as outsiders questioned the move, worried the school was losing its liberal arts distinctives, Lindsay and fellow Gordon administrators saw the adjustments as a proactive way to avoid financial strain in the future, to set the school up for sustainability.

Read the rest here.

I recently mentioned Gordon College in a talk I gave to the Lee University Symposium on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Here is what I said:

…The liberal arts, and the intellectual skills that the liberal arts provide, are at the heart of this kind of truth-seeking enterprise. We need the liberal arts more than ever in the age of Trump. Christian colleges are doing a nice job of training professionals and skilled workers to help sustain our capitalist economy, but I worry that we are not investing as much as we should in the kinds of people essential to sustain a democracy. Liberal arts and humanities programs around the country are under attack at time when we need them more than ever. Administrators and Boards of Trustees are eliminating these programs and majors at a rapid clip, all in the name of “prioritization.” All of us at Messiah College got a wake-up call when we learned this year that our sister school in Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College, a flagship evangelical college with a rich history of liberal arts education, dropped majors in history, philosophy, chemistry, French, and physics.  I have heard stories of other schools who have made cuts or eliminated humanities and liberal arts programs with very little conversation about the purpose of college or the way in which the sustained study of the humanities (not just general education, I might add) raise questions that go to the heart of the mission of a Christian college or university.  What are we prioritizing in prioritization?

Episode 54: Why College?

PodcastIncreasingly, college campuses have transformed from places of rigorous scholarly pursuits into glorified centers for job training. But is this what college is really for? Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling sit down and discuss the need for aspirational hope in an increasingly pessimistic world. They are joined by Dr. Johann Neem (@JohannNeem), author of the recent book, What’s the Point of College?

What Colleges and Universities Can Learn from the Silicon Valley (Ironically, its not what you might think)

Neem 1Today we recorded Episode 54 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Our guest was Western Washington historian Johann Neem, author of What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to listen to our conversation,  but let me offer a teaser.  At one point during the interview I asked Neem about his passage from his book:

…forward-looking companies try to emulate traditional colleges by building large, idyllic campuses where people can interact and be creative. “There is something magical about sharing meals,” said former Google CFO Patrick Pichette on why Google discourages telecommuting. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?'”  That sounds a lot like the traditional college experience, but, in new model universities, fundamental aspects of traditional ones–such as personalized teaching, green lawns, academic freedom, shared governance, meaningful exposure to the liberal arts and sciences, and time and autonomy for reflection–are deemed irrelevant.

Oh the irony!

As Silicon Valley tries to promote face-to-face interaction in real places that resemble the traditional college campus, universities seem to be moving away from such a model through its increasing commitment to displaced online education and a delivery system that makes human connection more difficult.

See how Neem developed his thoughts in Episode 54.  It will drop in a week or so.  Stay tuned.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Announces Grant Recipients

NEH Logo MASTER_082010

Here are a few that caught my eye:

Stanford University 
Project Director: Clayborne Carson
Project Title: The Papers of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968)

Elizabeth Fenn
University of Colorado, Boulder
Project Title: Sacagawea’s World: Window on the American West

American Historical Association
Project Director: Dana Schaffer
Project Title: History, the Past and Public Culture: An Exploratory Survey

Association of American Medical Colleges 
[Cooperative Agreements and Special Projects (Education)]
Project Director: Alison Whelan
Project Title: The Fundamental Role of the Humanities and Arts in Medical Education

Theresa Runstedtler
American University
Project Title: Black Ball: Rethinking the “Dark Ages” of Professional Basketball (1970s)

Jane Calvert
University of Kentucky
Project Title: A Biography of John Dickinson (1732–1808)

Endicott College
Project Director: Mark Herlihy
Project Title: The Salem Witch Trials: Their World and Legacy (Summer seminar for teachers)

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Inc. 
Project Director: Michelle LeBlanc
Project Title: Mapping a New World: Places of Conflict and Colonization in Seventeenth -Century New England (Summer workshops for teachers)

Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
Project Director: Lynne Manring
Project Title: Living on the Edge of Empire: Alliance, Conflict, and Captivity in Colonial
New England (Summer workshops for teachers)

Plimoth Plantation, Inc. 
Project Director: Darius Coombs
Project Title: Beyond the Mayflower: New Voices from Early America, 1500–1676 (Summer workshops for teachers)

American Antiquarian Society 
Project Director: James Moran
Project Title: The News Media and the Making of America, 1730–1865 (Summer seminar for teachers)

New-York Historical Society 
Project Director: Marci Reaven
Project Title: Religion and the American West

University of South Carolina, Columbia
Project Director: Joseph Morris
Project Title: America’s Reconstruction: The Untold Story (Summer seminar for teachers)

Vermont Archaeological Society, Inc. 
Project Director: Angela Labrador
Project Title: Freedom and Unity: The Struggle for Independence on the Vermont
Frontier (Summer seminar for teachers)

University of Virginia
Project Director: Jennifer Steenshorne
Project Title: The Papers of U.S. President George Washington (1732–1799)

University of Virginia
Project Director: John Stagg
Project Title: The Papers of U.S. President James Madison (1751–1836)

Montpelier Foundation 
Project Director: Terry Brock; Mary Minkoff (co-project director); Matthew Reeves (coproject director)
Project Title: Understanding the Overseer: Using Archaeology to Examine Status and
Identity at James Madison’s Montpelier

Click here for an entire list of August 2019 winners.  Congratulations!

Scientists Need the Humanities to Address Climate Change

Climate Change Manifest Destiny

What is the relationship between Manifest Destiny and climate change?

“I want to do something about climate change, but I don’t like science and I am not good at it.”

“I love history, literature, or philosophy, but I don’t see these disciplines advancing real change in the world.”

If you can relate to these statements, I would encourage you to read Steven Allison and Tyrus Miller’s piece at The Conversation: “Why science needs the humanities to solve climate change.” Both men teach at the University of California-Irvine. Allison teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and earth systems science.  Mller is the dean of the School of Humanities.

Here is a taste of their piece:

Scholars in the humanities interpret human history, literature and imagery to figure out how people make sense of their world. Humanists challenge others to consider what makes a good life, and pose uncomfortable questions – for example, “Good for whom?” and “At whose expense?”

Going beyond science, humanists can define cultural forces driving climate change, such as the fossil fuel dependence of industrialized societies.

In her book, “Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century,” literature scholar Stephanie LeMenager asserts that 20th-century culture – novels, poetry, films, photography and television – generated a mythology of “petro-utopia.” Images of gushing oil derricks implied that the American good life meant unfettered consumption of fossil fuels.

Popular culture, land use and economics reflected this ideal, particularly in California. Even as the Golden State strives to lead the nation in combating climate change, the legacy of petro-culture endures in suburban sprawl and jammed freeways.

Humanist scholars like LeMenager help to uncover the root causes of complex problems. Yes, rising carbon dioxide levels trap more heat in the atmosphere – but values matter too. Defining features of American identity, such as independence, freedom, mobility and self-reliance, have become entangled with petroleum consumption.

Read the entire piece here.

Support the Humanities at Messiah College

History_Hero_11_061615_Messiah

The humanities are alive and well at Messiah College, but we need your help to continue  our programs moving forward.  Please consider contributing to our ongoing work, especially as it relates to student research in the humanities and efforts to engage our region with humanistic learning and programs.

In the fall I will be entering my eighteenth year on the history faculty of Messiah College and I am grateful for the college’s commitment to the study of history, philosophy, literature, modern and ancient languages, religion, political philosophy, peace and conflict, and rhetoric during a time when these disciplines and ways of thinking about the world are in jeopardy at colleges and universities across the country.  I am also proud of our work in the region through our Center for Public Humanities, Digital Harrisburg Initiative, and Public Humanities Fellows Program.

As I have argued multiple times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and elsewhere, the humanities are absolutely essential to future of American democracy and the common good.  I am thankful to work and teach at a place where my colleagues and administration are on board with this mission.

I hope you will consider helping us strengthen the humanities at Messiah College by making a donation at our crowdfunding page.

Below is a letter that Peter Powers, Dean of the School of Humanities, recently sent to Messiah humanities alums.  It is a nice summary of some of our humanities-based programs.

One of my great pleasures as Dean is seeing humanities students in this school help us understand the world, and also change the world for the better.  One big way they accomplish that is through undergraduate research that contributes to the public good through community engagement.  I’d like to invite you to partner with us in continuing our work for the common good through the work of our undergraduate scholars.

Two programs of which I’m especially proud are our Public Humanities Fellows and our Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  Students in these programs work collaboratively with faculty and with community partners to deepen their understanding of their disciplines and to directly contribute to educational and cultural needs of the Harrisburg region.  Whether helping school students to research and write poetry about their neighborhoods, or collaborating with community members to map the stories of their Harrisburg ancestors, these programs help us deepen our civic engagement as our understanding of one another.

Together these programs exemplify undergraduate humanities research for the public good, a fact recognized by the Council of Independent Colleges when they recently awarded Messiah College a grant to collaborate with multiple public and private partners in remembering and celebrating the history of an important African American neighborhood in Harrisburg from the early 20th century. Such partnerships exemplify the best of what it means for us as Messiah College to be a Christian institution of higher education that is working for the common good with our community neighbors.

This work requires steady commitment of time, energy, and talent.  I invite you to partner with us in this commitment.  You could do this in several ways.  First, pray for us, as you have the opportunity.  Second, consider supporting this work by donating to this project.  Every donation will help us meet our goal of raising ten thousand dollars. Every dollar will go directly to supporting undergraduate research in the humanities, with a priority given to the Public Humanities and the Digital Harrisburg initiative.  Finally, help us out by sharing this project with other people in your social and personal networks, letting them know we would value their support.  To learn more or donate – check-out our crowdfunding page! Visit: https://crowdshark.webapps.messiah.edu/humanitiesresearch/donate/115

With gratitude for your support,

 Pete Powers

Dean, School of the Humanities

University of Tulsa is the Latest University to Drop Liberal Arts Programs

Tulsa

The University of Tulsa will reorganize the Harry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences by reducing 15 departments and 68 degree programs to three divisions and 36 degree programs.  Undergraduate degree programs in philosophy, religion, and Russian and Chinese studies were cut.

Undergraduate minors in Ancient Greek, Classics, Latin, Linguistics, Russian, Digital Studies, Classical Studies, and Medieval and Early Modern Studies were cut.

Graduate programs in history, women’s & gender Studies, and anthropology also bit the dust.

Read more here.

Here is a taste of Inside Higher Ed’s coverage:

“The overarching objective … was to focus and pivot around student success as the core of what the university is about,” [provost Janet] Levit. “Objective one of our strategic plan is for us to focus on retention and graduation rates, which frankly look similar to rates at a school like University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University rather than a small private university that attempts to distinguish itself from public schools.”

According to College Scorecard, Tulsa has a graduation rate of 71 percent and an 89 percent first-year retention rate. Levit said the alterations made will allow the university to refocus some resources toward retention programs through a student success center opening this summer, including an academic entry point for all incoming freshmen called “university studies,” in the hopes it will decrease retention risks….

Levit had previously said during a presentation to faculty and staff members that Tulsa had tried for too long to be “everything to everyone” and had spread itself too thin, making part of the strategy to determine what kind of institution Tulsa will be.

However, the decisions have been met with resistance from some members of the faculty who aren’t fans of the new direction.

“Tulsa is essentially becoming a sort of pre-professional school,” Tulsa philosophy professor Jacob Howland said. “The writing’s on the wall — they’re just destroying the liberal arts, natural sciences and humanities at TU.”

Howland has been outspoken in his displeasure with the university’s decisions, and he said students will suffer from a lack of liberal arts on campus.

“You’re not giving students an education that allows them to adapt to changing economic circumstances. You train people for these jobs, and if there’s technological development in five years and suddenly the jobs are gone, what have you done to these kids?”

Read the entire piece here.

I hope everyone sees what is happening here.  The Provost defines “student success” in purely economic terms.  These cuts will, to use her words, “determine what kind of institution Tulsa will be.”  Exactly.

More Thoughts on Gordon College’s Decision to Drop the History Major

Gordon College

I remain saddened at Gordon College’s decision to bring an end to its history major. We had some good discussion last night on my Facebook page.  Here are some of my random reflections:

What strikes me is that Gordon College is not simply consolidating three departments for the purpose of saving administration costs. This is the consolidation of THREE MAJORS–three different disciplines that offer different ways of understanding the world.

I spent over an hour yesterday with a very bright “undecided” student. I was trying to sell her on the importance of humanities, the liberal arts, and, yes, the study of history. The skills and ways of thinking that one learns from the study of history are not something that can happen in a few courses as part of an “integrated major” like Politics-Philosophy-History.  In over two decades of teaching at Christian liberal arts institutions I can attest to the fact that a historical way of seeing the world–one informed by contextual thinking, the understanding of contingency, the complexity of the human experience, a grasp of causality and change over time–is something that is cultivated through a deep dive into the discipline. You can’t come to an interdisciplinary or “integrated” conversation without grounding in a discipline.

I can’t stress the formation piece here enough–especially at a Christian college in the liberal arts tradition. (I don’t care if it is evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, etc.) Research universities and big regional public institutions are sometimes different animals since faculty do not often have the sustained engagement with undergraduates.

How are we forming our Christian students intellectually if we don’t give them the opportunity to dive into a particular discipline–a particular way of seeing the world with its own set of thinking skills? When a Christian college stops supporting the humanities (and now I am talking more broadly) it sends a message that it no longer believes that opportunities for this kind of formation are worth defending.

This, of course, raises the question: What kind of formative experiences DO Christian college believe are worth defending? At this point, a Christian college administrator might enter the fray and say that his or her school has a robust general education curriculum. Fair enough. I will be the first to defend strong Gen Ed Cores and I did so early in my career as a member of my colleges’s Gen Ed committee. But a cafeteria-style Gen Ed, while essential, does not allow for a deep formative dive into a particular way of thinking.

I also realize that some Christian college administrators might be skeptical about at my idealism. “We need to keep the doors open and no 18-22 year-olds want to study history any more.” I understand the dilemma, but if this is indeed the case, let’s just redefine our Christian colleges as professional schools where you will also get a Gen Ed Core and let humanities faculty decide whether or not they can work in such an environment with integrity.  It pains me that students no longer want to come to college to study the humanities. It pains me even more that some of our finest Christian liberal arts colleges will no longer give those who DO want to study these topics an opportunity to do so in a sustained way. So yes, I am really shaken-up by the news from Gordon.

In the meantime, as I prepare to weather the coming storms, I will and continue to cling to the arguments I made here:

Why Study History

Will Free College Save the Humanities?

UnivofMNMinneapolis

University of Minnesota historian David Perry thinks so.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Pacific Standard:

I love all of the humanities, but I argue that history is the discipline best suited to instruct students how to respond to the 21st-century information ecology of short deadlines and overwhelming access to information. Historians learn to locate complicated historical contexts, sort through sources, then navigate a path to a coherent and persuasive argument in a timely way. There is no field in the knowledge economy that does not benefit from these skills. That’s why, in many cases, only rich kids can study the humanities, while poor kids feel obligated to major in business—and then often work for the rich kids for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing an undergraduate business degree situated in a rich liberal arts and sciences curriculum if that’s what you want to do, but these degrees (as opposed to MBAs) are not fast tracks to the C-suite. Yale history majors know this. Then again, student debt at Yale is lower than the national average; students there whose families make less than $65,000 a year pay no tuition or fees. Yalies probably aren’t as worried, in general, about their first jobs out of college. They want to be educated and to have long careers. And cake.

There’s been a crash across the humanities since the Great Recession, and no amount of course innovation or public engagement that can fix it. We have to change the basic economics of a college education, and arguments that deviate from this essential truth distract us from the core issues. We are in a decades-long decline of public investment in higher education, including a $9 billion reduction over the last 10 years. The public, meanwhile, assumes that investment in higher education has been growing. Maybe we should concentrate on telling them the truth, rather than scolding historians for (allegedly) not teaching enough political history. Then let’s get to work making college free, canceling student debt, and letting students follow their interests. We might just save history. And with a broader population educated in all the rich lessons of history, literature, arts, social sciences, and hard sciences, we also might just save the world.

Read the entire piece here.

A Korean Defense of the Humanities

seoul

Kim Soeong-kon teaches English at Seoul National University.  Here is a taste of his piece at the Korea Herald:

Recently, I read a perceptive article that the famous basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for the Guardian. It was entitled, “The way Americans regard sports heroes versus intellectuals speaks volumes.” In this insightful article, Abdul-Jabbar defended the hopelessly waning humanities, lamenting Americans’ infatuation with famous athletes and disrespect for intellectual giants. It was a pleasant surprise that an internationally well-known athlete emphasized the importance of the humanities and the intellectual in his article. 

The intriguing article begins with the following passage: “On 9 April 1980 more than 50,000 Parisians marched through the streets to mourn the loss of one of their own. Was it for a famous pop star, a beloved politician or a nationally treasured athlete? Nope, it was the funeral of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existential philosopher and the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.” Abdul-Jabbar continues, “In America, that mass public display of grief and affection is reserved for pop culture icons, not unapologetic intellectuals.” 

And this:

The problem is that if we disrespect the humanities, we lose humanism and humanity in our society. Then our society will falter from the lack of ethics and morality and suffer the consequences such as extreme materialism, sexual dissipation, and social corruption. The so-called Burning Sun scandal is one good example. In fact, there are a plethora of social problems derived from our disrespect of the humanities, such as contempt for elders and minorities, embezzlement of public funds and swindling. Indeed, all sorts of indecent and unethical things can happen in a society that disregards and dismisses the humanities. To build a better society, we desperately await the renaissance of the humanities.

Read the entire piece here.

The Humanities Will Set You Up for Life

humanities text

More reasons to consider that humanities degree.

Here is a taste of Amanda Ruggeri’s article at the BBC website:

George Anders is convinced we have the humanities in particular all wrong. When he was a technology reporter for Forbes from 2012 to 2016, he says Silicon Valley “was consumed with this idea that there was no education but Stem education”.

But when he talked to hiring managers at the biggest tech companies, he found a different reality. “Uber was picking up psychology majors to deal with unhappy riders and drivers. Opentable was hiring English majors to bring data to restauranteurs to get them excited about what data could do for their restaurants,” he says.

“I realised that the ability to communicate and get along with people, and understand what’s on other people’s minds, and do full-strength critical thinking – all of these things were valued and appreciated by everyone as important job skills, except the media.” This realisation led him to write his appropriately-titled book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education.

Take a look at the skills employers say they’re after. LinkedIn’s research on the most sought-after job skills by employers for 2019 found that the three most-wanted “soft skills” were creativity, persuasion and collaboration, while one of the five top “hard skills” was people management. A full 56% of UK employers surveyed said their staff lacked essential teamwork skills and 46% thought it was a problem that their employees struggled with handling feelings, whether theirs or others’. It’s not just UK employers: one 2017 study found that the fastest-growing jobs in the US in the last 30 years have almost all specifically required a high level of social skills.

Or take it directly from two top executives at tech giant Microsoft who wrote recently: “As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.

Read the entire piece here.

Saving the Humanities

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Humanities related subjects–history, English, art history, philosophy–seems to be in decline in the academy.  But these humanities subjects also seem to be thriving outside the academy.   Broadway shows, television, Netflix, movies, museums, music, and podcasts all turn to the humanities for content.

Over at the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing argues that the humanities will survive as long as they adapt to our “brave new world.”  Here is a taste of his piece:

Overall, arts and culture contribute more than $760 billion a year to the US economy—4.2 percent of GDP. Compared to the tech industry, that may seem modest—Apple’s revenue alone totaled $265 billion last year, and its market capitalization is about $900 billion—but arts and culture employ nearly 5 million people in communities across the country. Moreover, the value of the liberal arts to society extends far beyond the numbers. They incubate ideas, provide ethical standards, and raise questions about the status quo—functions that are becoming ever more important as the tech world, ridden by scandal and crisis, faces a moment of reckoning.

A good place to begin in chronicling the material benefits of the humanities is the musical Hamilton. It began as a 900-page biography by Ron Chernow (who studied English at both Yale and Cambridge). At an airport while on vacation, Lin-Manuel Miranda (who studied theater at Wesleyan) bought a copy. Several chapters in, he got the idea for a stage adaptation. After a two-and-a-half-month sold-out run at the Public, the show moved to the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway, and its vision of America as a nation of hard-working, striving immigrants has been playing to packed houses ever since. Ten months in, The New York Times offered a breakdown of its finances headlined “‘Hamilton’ Inc.: The Path to the Billion-dollar Broadway Show.” The Hamilton album had by then sold 428,000 copies, and a companion book sold more than 100,000 copies in less than two months. In 2017, the show began a national tour that took it to more than a dozen cities, creating jobs for thousands of actors, dancers, choreographers, costume providers, set designers, stage managers, lighting and sound engineers, and agents. Chernow’s book, meanwhile, has sold more than a million copies—a bonanza for his publisher, Penguin.

Thanks in part to Hamilton, the 2018 season was Broadway’s best ever, with more than $1.8 billion in revenue and 14.37 million attendees. Other fixtures include The Lion King, now in its twenty-second year, which was created by Julie Taymor (who studied mythology and folklore at Oberlin); Wicked, now in its sixteenth year, which is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire (who studied literature at the State University of New York and Tufts); and Frozen, which is based on the 2013 Disney film whose screenplay was written by Jennifer Lee (who studied English at the University of New Hampshire and got an MFA from Columbia). No algorithms were used in the making of these shows.

Read the entire piece here.  (Thanks to Scot McKnight for passing this piece along).

The University of Providence is the Latest School to Cut Liberal Arts Programs

Providence U

The Catholic (Sisters of Providence) university in Great Falls, Montana has closed the following liberal arts programs:   Art, English, History, Sociology, and Theology.  The university also cut programs in Accounting, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education,  and Theater and Business Arts.

If I am reading the university website correctly, the school will now offer the following majors:  Addictions Counseling, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Education, Forensic Science, Exercise Science, Math, Legal and Paralegal Studies, Psychology, RN-BSN Completion, and Applied Science in Surgical Technology.

Here is the press release:

After hours of conversation and extensive consideration of all the factors involved in a decision of this magnitude, the University of Providence Board of Trustees voted yesterday to approve the recommendation to close several of the university’s programs. As a result of the decision, the following programs will close: Accounting (including the graduate program), Art, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education, English, History, Sociology, Theater and Business Arts, and Theology. All students in the affected programs will be given the opportunity to graduate from their program and their scholarships will be maintained. Students and faculty are already engaged in teach-out plans, which are individualized transition plans utilizing existing faculty, adjuncts, resources at other universities, and independent studies.

Recognizing these program changes will affect the future of the university, the Board also committed to lead a substantial and collaborative process among faculty and other campus stakeholders to map a clear vision for the university moving forward that is grounded in the mission and values of the Sisters of Providence. The plan is for this process to begin as soon as possible with final consideration by the Board of Trustees at their May meeting.

“Our goal is to remain a viable, thriving Catholic liberal arts university to serve the changing needs of our community,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We have to think strategically about our offerings. Although we have had to make difficult decisions concerning our under-enrolled programs, including some humanities majors, the university remains committed to offering a strong liberal arts education.”

The faculty’s recent redesign and strengthening of the liberal arts core curriculum, Lumen de Lumine, is evidence of this commitment. The core curriculum is grounded in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the liberal arts, and includes requirements to take theology, philosophy, English, Fine Arts and history courses, in addition to other liberal arts courses. While some majors are closing, many of the disciplines will still be actively taught in the core.

“Students enter UP with the same questions all college students have,” says Aretz. “What’s unique about UP is that students explore these questions in our core curriculum through the lens of faith and reason, leading them to not just a successful career, but truly a life-long vocation. Although some faculty positions will be eliminated going forward, we remain committed to having adequate full-time liberal arts faculty to teach the core curriculum.”

In addition to this enhanced core curriculum, another unique UP strength is that it is a ministry of the Providence St. Joseph Health care system, the largest health care system in the western United States, founded by the Sisters of Providence. While the university sees the opportunity for growth in its School of Health Professions, it will continue to explore opportunities for new programs and growth in the School of Liberal Arts on the Great Falls campus.

“Focusing more on programs with strong enrollments is part of this process,” says Aretz. “The partnership with the health care system also provides unique opportunities for new programs in Great Falls. In fact, the history of the Great Falls campus began with the introduction of a resident nurse (RN) program at Columbus Hospital that eventually contributed to the founding of our university.”

The rich history that precedes UP lives on not only in new programs, but in the strong remaining programs. Investments will be made in the remaining programs in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences including, but not limited to, business, legal and paralegal studies, the sciences and criminal justice. The decisions that are being made to both strengthen existing programs, and sunset other programs, is part of the university’s strategic plan, which launched a program reprioritization process in which each of the university’s programs were evaluated by criteria developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee.

Matt Redinger, the provost and vice president of academic affairs, formed a Program Prioritization Advisory Council (PPAC) comprised of faculty from each division within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences to guide the process. Redinger and the PPAC established criteria, and from that criteria Redinger formed initial recommendations to the president. The criteria included the programs’ numbers of majors, student demand, market competitiveness, operating costs, and contributions to the university’s other programs and to the liberal arts core curriculum.

“The decision to recommend these program closures was very difficult, however, program reprioritization was necessary for the university to progress,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We are one of many universities across the state and country having to make these difficult decisions. These program closures, while difficult, help strengthen our financial health as an institution. This will position the university as one of Montana’s leading healthcare universities and one of the state’s premier Catholic, liberal arts institutions.”

While the university is making strides to grow their remaining academic offerings, the campus community is aware of the hardships these decisions have on faculty, staff and students.

“We are sensitive to the impact these decisions have on our university community, their families and the wider community,” says Aretz. “Our faculty’s dedication to our students is a key differentiator for UP, and we continue to honor that legacy.”

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is working to build new innovative interdisciplinary programs to capitalize on UP’s Catholic heritage and relationship with Providence St. Joseph Health.

“Some have questioned why we are eliminating programs but still building on campus and adding other academic programs,” says Aretz. “We recognized that it was necessary to update and improve basic infrastructure to attract and retain students – the renovated Student Center and new University Center are part of that process. At the same time, the university needs to invest in the state-of-the-art academic and athletic programs that will yield the greatest outcomes for students and result in financial sustainability.”

Thoughts:

  • Can a Catholic school really claim to be a “thriving liberal arts university” without majors in Art, English, History, and Theology?  The University of Providence should probably stop calling itself a “liberal arts institution” and start calling itself a professional school with a liberal arts core curriculum.
  • Ironically, Provost Matt Redinger is a historian. He has a Ph.D from the University of Washington.  He is the author of American Catholics and the Mexican Revolution (2005).  He has been on the job at the University of Providence since July 2018.
  • I would like to know what role the faculty played in this decision and if they are satisfied with that role.