Thursday, February 26, 2009

What? Market the Humanities? Make Their Study Job-Oriented? Oh, Stop!

Courtesy of my friend Susan Hefti of the 93rd Street Beautification Association, I was led to this story by Patricia Cohen in the Tuesday Times. I won't reiterate what the intellectual and philosophical rationale for offering humanities studies at universities is and has always been; my degree from NYU was in Liberal Arts with a concentration in theatre. But this paragraph kind of stunned me:

But in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency. Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.
And frankly, this paragraph later in the piece stunned me -- and is probably continuing to stun, if not threaten, the academic establishment that doesn't much live in the real world in the first place:
The study of the humanities evolved during the 20th century “to focus almost entirely on personal intellectual development,” said Richard M. Freeland, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.”
Yep, people needs jobs, people. And that doesn't always necessarily mean jobs in the academy where the academy's perpetuation is what is taught and learned and demonstrated. Sad to read this story, but amen.

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