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Humanities in the 21st century

As many have observed, the humanities (and allied disciplines) at U.S. universities have gotten rather silly, these last few decades. Now they’re also falling from favor among job-conscious students:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The humanities division at Harvard University…is attracting fewer undergraduates…

Universities’ humanities divisions and liberal-arts colleges across the nation are facing similar challenges in the wake of stepped-up global economic competition, a job market that is disproportionately rewarding graduates in the hard sciences, rising tuition and sky-high student-debt levels.

Among recent college graduates who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%; for philosophy and religious-studies majors, it was 9.5%; and for history majors, it was also 9.5%…By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%; and elementary-education graduates were at 5%.

Coincidence?

But, not to worry: Harvard’s Humanities department is prepared to sneer at anyone who doesn’t see how tremendously valuable they are:

This “is an anti-intellectual moment, and what matters to me is that we, the people in arts and humanities, find creative and affirmative ways of engaging the moment,” said Diana Sorensen, Harvard’s dean of Arts and Humanities…

Homi Bhabha, director of the Humanities Center at Harvard….said he didn’t give much weight to criticism from some elected officials who carp that young people need to go into fields that are supposedly more useful. “I think that’s because they have a very primitive and reductive view of what is essential in society,” he said.

Get it? If the Humanities are in decline – despite this being an age of left-wing triumph, and with university revenues/budgets near all-time highs – it’s not the fault of Humanities professors for too often failing to teach kids how to reason, usefully, about life’s problems. No, no, no. It’s everyone else’s fault for being primitive, reductionist and anti-intellectual.

All I can say is: I have an idea of what’s genuinely intellectual, and Sorensen/Bhabha are not it.

Via Zero Hedge.

UPDATE (from Dan): Jeff addresses a topic near and dear to my heart. There are many reasons the humanities are in decline and a good number of them trace back to the humanities professors themselves who focus on esoterica and offer, in the words of Homi Bhabha (whom Jeff quoted above) a “reductive view of what is essential in society”.

Perhaps were more humanities professors to show a genuine passion for the ideals which had defined their professor until scholars (thinking they were really quite clever) started “deconstructing” it in the 1970s, they would find greater interest among students.  But, professors would then have to make the case why the study of philosophy and great works of literature mattered to those who pursued careers in law, medicine, banking and commerce.

I highly recommend Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind which explores one aspect of the humanities’ decline in contemporary academia.

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52 Comments

  1. “Umm, yeah… except that I don’t know that I ever left out that possibility.”
    No worries. Just being helpful in rounding out the portrait you were painting! 🙂

    Comment by Passing By — June 23, 2013 @ 2:17 pm - June 23, 2013

  2. “such as monarchism – that I can’t agree are rational.”
    Agreed–the whole divine right of kings assumption is a little much to take…

    Comment by Passing By — June 23, 2013 @ 2:42 pm - June 23, 2013

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