In an earlier post I wondered aloud what the Humanities were, doing so by too briefly surveying some of the standard arguments that we often hear when this topic comes up. I concluded by asking readers what they thought the Humanities were, and left it at that.
It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old trick to get students new to the university to think a few new thoughts, and, as we used to say, expand their horizons.) Whether or not it was the intended message of the speaker–Prof. Gregg Lambert from Syracuse University–the students seems to have heard a message of lamentation for the future of the Humanities–not a description of how we got here or a renewed defense of our relevance but, instead, a (to their ears at least) dire message from a senior professor concerning the fact that they may be deluded to think that grad school might be for them (since they’ll possibly be mired in student debt that will take them decades to repay–making grad school sound like a bit of a scam); because they’re all just human capital, spewed into the global market from a never-ending pipeline, why continue in their studies? As one first year student who attended the lecture said to me today, sounded both intimidated and incredulous: “Declaring a major may be the most important decision of my life?!” Continue reading →