Inhumane Humanities

Humanities education in America is facing a crisis at the highest levels, writes The New Republic, as job prospects dwindle and graduate researchers multiply.

Humanities education in America is facing a crisis at the highest levels, writes The New Republic, as job prospects dwindle and graduate researchers multiply. "Efforts to create new forms of general education foundered because general education was aimed at preparing students for the world outside the academic walls. Nestled in their disciplinary armor, the professors--the descendants of those late-nineteenth-century reformers who created the university in the first place--distrusted, and resisted, the idea of training people for practical affairs. Interdisciplinarity hit its natural limits fairly soon. Administrators often liked interdisciplinary programs, since they sounded exciting, and staff could sometimes be appointed without deferring to departmental power, and they were cheap--but for the most part, though, the disciplines remained intact and in charge, and interdisciplinarity actually reinforced their authority. In theory, as Menand shows in a fine bit of academic comedy, interdisciplinary courses meant enabling two people from different disciplines to teach together: this would lead to productive collisions, which would in turn show faculty and students the limits of their perspectives. But in practice the faculty tended to go awry with highly idiosyncratic versions of their colleagues’ disciplines, while their students sank into paralytic bewilderment."

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