Another day, another story about the death of the Humanities.
Tamar Lewin does it well in The New York Times, providing us with the relevant data:
On Stanford University’s sprawling campus, where a long palm-lined drive leads to manicured quads, humanities professors produce highly regarded scholarship on Renaissance French literature and the philosophy of language.
They have generous compensation, stunning surroundings and access to the the latest technology and techniques of scholarship. The only thing they lack is students: Some 45 percent of the faculty members in Stanford’s main undergraduate division are clustered in the humanities — but only 15 percent of the students.
Some universities are trying to save their Humanities courses by linking them to high tech. They teach students to data mine Victorian novels. Somehow it seems more like desperation than a great leap forward.
If novels are just another collection of data, why bother to read them?
Universities across the nation are downsizing their Humanities programs, to the chagrin of some and to the relief of others. There is even a suggestion that if these departments are not self-sustaining they must be supported by outside funds: call it by its name—a bailout.
Like it or not, these programs have lost out in the marketplace. Perhaps they have enough political clout to get bailed out by the government, but still… that’s not much of a future.
Of course, Lewin trots out the usual suspects: the Great Recession, the rise of cognitive neuroscience and the fact that your Humanities degree will be a liability in the job market.
You might blame it on high tech, but the truth, unstated by Lewin, is that businesses have had their fill of Humanities degree holders who bring nothing but a bad attitude to their jobs.
Strangely, Lewin does not even hint at the possibility that the people who are running Humanities programs, the zealous propagandists who have turned Humanities departments into indoctrination mills might bear some of the responsibility.
However much the idea has been publicized, here and elsewhere, the thought, I promise you, has never crossed the minds of the dwindling number of academic Humanities teachers.
Responsibility is an ethical concept. You cannot learn about it in a STEM class. Yet, apparently, you will not learn anything about it in a Humanities course either.
We have reached a point where literature and philosophy professors do not even understand their own responsibility in having created the state of affairs that they are bemoaning. What could a student learn from them except how to evade responsibility?
Humanist, heal thyself!