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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More