Liberal Arts Schools–going, Going, Gone?

And it does not seem as if we could expect things to turn around any time soon. With the atmosphere, it cannot be helped that every one on the payroll or every project on the table is going under the microscope. In most schools, this includes the implantation of course subjects in a number of Humanities colleges.

Educational institutions are already taking measures to provide greater medical, engineering and business training as well as strengthen pre-existing programs to help prepare students for their vocational lives.

However, in various colleges, students enrolling in many liberal arts subjects find themselves faced with subtle discouragement, if not outright refusal.

Unattractive economic conditions have made universities take more care with how they spend money around. One way to cut back on expenses is to sacrifice academic pursuits that do not seem necessary. And judging from the way Humanities subjects such as history, literature, philosophy, cultural studies, the arts, languages and religion are getting cut from the curriculum, it is easy to see who and what are being sacrificed.

Early reports this year have confirmed that a number of colleges and universities have an ongoing “freeze hire” policy in Humanities departments. Others are on a partial “freeze hire.” In addition, it has already become a common practice not to replace professors or classroom instructors who leave Philosophy or Literature departments. And students wanting to enroll in any humanities subject are firmly being turned away.

While staunch supporters of the humanities strongly believe in the importance of liberal arts institutions, a number of them fail to make a convincing case.

The main problem is that, some academicians still operate under the belief that a Humanities education is essentially the old “inside the Ivory Tower” education. That old separatist theory makes it difficult for some, if not all, to associate liberal arts with anything economically valuable or practical. The essence of a humanities education, after all, is not really to train people in any particular skill, but to teach them critical thinking, analysis, articulation and yes, values.

But with the way things are going, a humanities education is becoming less and less popular. According to the results of a poll survey, only a small percentage of the student populace is enrolling into the liberal arts programs. Some students, when asked for their reasons why they are not going after a liberal arts education, stated that they want high paying jobs, something that a philosophy or cultural studies degree is unlikely to give them. After all, side by side with MBAs or a medical degree, employers are not likely to see much of a contest between those who can deconstruct T.S. Eliott’s multiple voices in “The Wasteland” and those who can handle a complex financial sheet. When times are this tough, it is hard to see what is important in knowing how to debate history or what being a humanities major is even all about.

Until the abstract concepts of exploring how it is to be human meets up with the practicalities of earning and keeping a living, students in many liberal arts schools will continue to remain a select few while other undergraduates search elsewhere for much greener pastures.

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