Archive for March 6th, 2009


The Embattled Humanities

March 6, 2009

The New York Times recently ran an article by Patricia Cohen suggesting that “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” In a fight for diminished resources and students who are worried about job prospects, can colleges and universities still afford departments that offer degrees in languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion? The humanities’ share of the education market has been shrinking for decades, and the current downturn is not helping.

Responses to the article, under the heading of “Humanities and the Examined Life,” quickly followed. They speak to both the intrinsic worth of training in the humanities and the current dilemma of finding a job in a chaotic economy. Carol Geary Schneider, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose report was cited by Cohen, pointed out that a college education needs to prepare graduates for “real-world problems, examined choices, and responsible action.”

Humanities councils take a broader view of the enterprise in which we share. As one of our state council colleagues remarked, “But the humanities are not merely academic matters; they’re all around us, and they matter deeply to individuals and communities.”

How much, then, are the humanities worth — to students, to the economy, to a perplexed nation? What is the best argument for the humanities?