Another Blow to the Humanities

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published the results of education.” The numbers should make faculty members tremble, and some of the anonymous comments, too.  In sum, CFO regard the professors as the biggest roadblock to adjustments necessary to handle current financial problems.

When asked about “The one strategy that CFO’s would pick to cut costs or raise more revenue, if they did not have to worry about the consequences among constituents,” they offered the following answers.

—–Increase teaching loads: 38%
—–Increase tuition: 19%
—–Eliminate tenure: 17%
—–Hire more adjunct faculty members: 11%
—–Increase enrollment by changing admissions standards: 4%
—–Cut student services: 3%
—–No answer: 2%

 That more than one-third of CFOs place “increase teaching loads” at the top of the list, making it #1 by a long margin, means that something along those lines is bound to happen at institutions across the country in the coming years.  A 2-2 teaching load, with classes of 12 students, simply doesn’t make sense to CFOs unless that professor has ways of using his or her time outside the classroom to bring money into the university by other means.

The humanities in particular are vulnerable.  The nature of humanistic study requires small classes and, at its best, many tutorial sessions in office hours.  (You can’t work on students’ ideas and writings in a class of 100.)  To CFOs, the model looks grossly inefficient, and they have a steady trend to support them.  The trend is that the humanities are increasingly becoming a minor part of the campus.  Less than five percent of annual bachelor’s degrees are granted in English and all the foreign languages combined.  The old image of college as roughly an equal measure of humanities and of sciences is obsolete.

This makes it harder for campus humanists to resist pressures from the administration to become more efficient and more productive in the delivery of educational services.  One can imagine humanities professors reacting to the survey as an insidious expression of the bean-counting mentality, but expressions of disgust won’t help their case one bit.  Unless they learn to stimulate more demand for their “product” (even though they hate the language of consumerism), they will have no ammunition that works in the corridors of administrative power.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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2 thoughts on “Another Blow to the Humanities

  1. Last fall, I spoke at a local college on the topic of what type of careers may be available to graduates with an English degree. What I tried to relay to the few students who showed up was that my English degree was not the end of the journey. Rather, I used my time in college and in the English department to refine my critical thinking skills, my ability to write persuasive arguments, and my knowledge of higher-level writing. From that base, I used my English degree as a stepping stone to an advanced degree in public policy and various certifications in public relations.
    Now, I work in community development/nonprofit finance and I couldn’t be happier. However, I also wouldn’t be where I am today without the solid foundation that my English degree provided.

  2. That 2-2 teaching load in the humanities (or any other subject where there can/should be classes of 12) is not sustainable. It’s just not. Humanities faculty, you need to get your selves in gear and figure out a way to deliver more value. Not necessarily monetary value, just more value. I’m not sure I agree that the “many tutorial sessions in office hours” is so necessary; at the college level and especially the graduate level, these students are supposed to be turning into independent scholars. The “less than 5%” figure is a little decieving, too, since the college population has been so dramatically increased by the huge increase in the number of jobs that require a college degree (and that formerly did not) in fields as diverse as wildlife conservation to mid-level office and sales jobs to hotel management.

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