News / USA

    Humanities Fight to Survive in High-Tech World

    Liberal arts colleges face declining enrollment

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Faiza Elmasry

    A student studies on the quad at Amherst College, a liberal arts school in western Massachusetts.
    A student studies on the quad at Amherst College, a liberal arts school in western Massachusetts.

    Tim Clark is a senior at Amherst College, a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts, where he’s studied Latin, Greek and archeology. Thanks to those classes, he says, he’s not the same person he was four years ago.

    “My studies in classics and in history really changed how I think, how I look at the world and have really taught me how to see things not in sort of clear answers, but try to see all the different elements of an issue," Clark says. "The liberal arts college teaches you how to be a critical thinker and how to analyze materials.”



    However, Clark feels many people don’t see the benefits of studying humanities.

    “When I say I’m a classics major, a lot of people say ‘What are you going to do with that? All the information that you’ve been taught is irrelevant to the modern world.’”

    Fighting to stay relevant

    The term “humanities” refers to a branch of knowledge that generally includes languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. While the study of humanities peaked in the U.S. in the 1960s, it saw a steep decline the following decade.

    Today, science, technology, engineering and math draw more attention, and more dollars. That leaves many universities struggling with declining enrollment in the humanities and possible budget cuts.

    “There is no question that more graduates in the science and technology fields are essential," says Carolyn Martin, president of Amherst College. "But the study of culture and the ability to write well, to think well and to interact well with others, all of those things are equally important.”

    In her previous job, as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Martin felt under pressure to defend the importance of humanities. This year, she serves on a commission for the American Academy of Arts and Science, which is examining the issue.

    “I think we need all of the areas of knowledge not only to be well funded, but also to ensure that all young people have the fundamental skills that pertain to each of those different  domains," Martin says. "And also, by the way, the humanities are really the integrative arts. Without them, science and technology would feel quite empty to people and the question of how to put technology to human uses would be a very urgent question in the absence of the study of culture.”

    Convincing others of the importance of humanities can be an uphill battle. In October 2011, for example, Florida’s governor said state tax dollars should bolster science and high tech studies, not “educate more people who can’t get a job in anthropology.”

    Since state governments control nearly two-thirds of all higher education funding for public colleges and universities, their embrace of - or disregard for - humanities can affect the future of the liberal arts.

    “I think the critical question," says Travis Reindl, spokesman for the National Governors Association, "is what are the certificates and degrees and certifications that the states need to really meet their economic demands both now and in the future.”

    Humanities reinvented

    The National Governors Association helps states align their higher education priorities with economic development. According to Reindl, the association does not advise state governments to move money from humanities.

    “It’s not either liberal arts or the sciences. I think the challenge and the task that we have is to really strike the appropriate balance," he says. "We have to have engineers and scientists that can write; that can speak; that can appreciate cultural and individual differences and respect them; can work with other people effectively; whether it’s people down the hall or around the globe.”

    But to stay relevant and avoid budget cuts, Reindl believes liberal arts needs to reinvent itself.

    “For example, can we create partnerships between universities so that we’re able to tap into their faculty and share certain courses and programs?" he says. "Can we use technology to provide some programs remotely so that we continue to provide these essential programs, but we provide them in a way that fits the budget realities that we face?”

    Broadening the scope

    The Massachusetts commissioner of Higher Education has another suggestion. Richard Freeland urges students studying humanities to broaden their scope of interest.

    “At the undergraduate levels, there is plenty of room for students to have a double major or major-minor combinations so that the students could take a sequence of courses in a business subject or a health/science subject or in teacher preparation and, at the same time, have room in the curriculum to explore some humanistic interest.”

    And, he points out, humanities graduates can apply their knowledge to other - more technical - fields.

    “For example, in an increasingly globalized world, language skills are incredibly important in fields like business, engineering, health sciences," Freeland says. "In English programs, technical writing and practical writing have grown all over the country. In music, a number of universities have developed programs in the music industry for students who love music and want to be around music, but are not talented enough to earn a living as performers.”

    Finding practical applications, the commissioner says, can help the humanities survive the new technological onslaught and prove that learning about ethics, values and critical thinking is still relevant in the 21st century.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United Statesi
    X
    July 28, 2016 2:16 AM
    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora