Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why Professors Can't Justify the Liberal Arts

I thought this Inside Higher Ed article was an interesting discussion of they way that people outside the academy seem to value a liberal arts education more than those within it. Ho notes that many humanities faculty, despite having defenders among CEOs and business leaders, shun business, withdrawing from potential allies. Further, she notes, the reaction to Fish's article a year ago, declaring that the humanities was irrelevant, pointed out that the cry that the humanities is irrelevant is mostly among scholars, who, one commenter says, "have professionalized their relationship with the humanities to the point of careerist cynicism." Another similarly adds that the "humanities have been taken over by careerists, who speak and write only for each other.”

I do think there's an attitude or awareness that writing a dissertation or scholarly monograph on some minor poet no one's ever heard of isn't really making the humanities relevant to students, and yet most humanists recognize that embarking on such tasks is necessary in order to get a job or get promoted. So there's a real disconnect, which I know I and others have said again and again, between the work that gets one a job and the work that makes one relevant. The students in your class don't know about the monograph you wrote and it may be that writing it gave you new insight into the subjects you teach. Pouring your heart and soul into a class doesn't get you very far in the academic world. So there's a real tension there. I don't know how we resolve this.

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