15 Comments

As is your wont, you are too kind to Matt here. He didn't make any effort to substantiate his claim, he just stated it as fact. Your rebuttal may not be sufficient strictu sensu -- though I think it works quite well a fortiori -- but it's not your burden of proof.

I'd like to add a purpose for the humanities beyond what you mention: that they should provide the public good of making proper citizens. I don't know how much modern humanities courses teach the principles of liberal democracy, but it's the Right's hatred of that which in reality drives the criticism to which Matt refers. The humanities should not be seen as an apologia for our current society, but as a reminder of how we got here -- the successes along the way *and also the failures that we should work to fix*.

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While US university education requires more liberal education than UK universities at a cost of an extra year to graduate, are we not in an ever deepening situation that C P Snow once expressed concern about in his 1959 lecture "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution"? [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Cultures ]. 60+ years later, science has made huge strides forward, yet we pick our leaders from the humanities, whose ignorance of basic science is not just appalling, but in the US and UK, often worn as a badge of honor. IDK what we should be teaching humanities students - it isn't my field - but over my lifetime it has become ever clearer that we pick our leaders from a rather narrow expertise, and worse, that expertise in science and engineering is often ignored despite institutions that have been set up to provide it. I don't think we need to have a strictly technocrtatic governnance, but we really need better informed governance to successfully navigate our increasingly technological and complex world.

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As someone who taught at considerably less distinguished institutions than Berkely for thirty plus years, I don't ever recall any colleagues who were conscious propagandists. Most were certainly left of center, but intellectually honest enough to present material in an even handed manner. Training students in critical thinking skills is the most valuable contribution of humanities. Despite an often open contempt of some of our b-school colleagues, our econ grads did quite well in post collegiate employment. I feel this was because critical thinking is the core of economics.

Of course, critical thinking breeds an attitude of looking for sacred cows to slaughter.

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This is a great post. Why? I graduated from a small LA college in 1969 & went on to a career teaching English at another. As an administrator & trustee, I tried & failed to get either school interested in connecting vocational training with the wide-ranging LA ed I got. My last few years in the classroom, I taught a "general ed" course focusing on writing a business plan, including an Excel workbook on projecting five years of expenses & profits & a prose case study. There was no textbook. Students had to go out there online & into the business world to learn what starting their business would be like. And I brought in a couple of businessmen who despite long odds started & made flourish their businesses. It was a fun course, and students loved it. But when I retired, no one was interested in carrying it on, including a colleague in the dept who had a BA in economics.

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This is an excellent post but the nine pages of syllabus are unreadable on my computer. I would have wanted to take a closer look at the offerings. Back in the 1960s when I was an undergraduate and continuing into graduate school (both BA and PhD in chemistry), I took as many courses outside my major that I could. I came one course shy of a double major in Political Science as an undergrad. In grad school I audited Biomechanics and Athletic Performance taught by the great Indiana swimming coach, Doc Counsilman as well as several German and American literature classes.

Our distinguished professor's four key points are really the keys to a good university education regardless of what your field of study is. I had a good laugh reading the fourth point. I have always claimed that my key to success is knowing a little about a lot of different things. The ability to carry on a 15 minute conversation on a given topic is an excellent attribute to have.

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Your epitaph on Twitter is new to me. I hope you wrote it.

There are too many Liberal Arts Colleges who are too small to support their fixed costs indefinitely, therefore they have to raise donations, which is difficult when parents find out their child's professors are avowed Socialists (as I have seen firsthand). They better start collapsing these little colleges into multi-campus universities to reduce overhead, but administrators would never support that because they are the most redundant of overhead.

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Given the short shrift given to World War II in this course, would I be naive in thinking genocide in the phrase “World Trade Organization, Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, Genocide” is about the Jews in WWII?

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“do you have access to money and to social networks?”

You have not mentioned an aspect of this that in my opinion is significant: a broad humanities education is still considered not only acceptable but desirable for America's elite students. My university education was at a Canadian institution which, I suppose, is the rough equivalent of an American state school. My curriculum was tightly constrained by required courses, and consequently my education was somewhat narrow.

Most Canadians I know had a similar experience. One of them has made good and sent his son down to the University of Chicago, where he was exposed to a quite broad selection of courses, taught by excellent instructors, even if he was somewhat focused on economics. It hasn't done him any harm; he easily landed a good gig as a consultant in D.C.

There is a simpler explanation than Yglesias' perfervid fantasies about radical transgender indoctrination or whatever. People with money and good social networks - high status people - are quite happy to get a humanities education. When post-secondary education was less common, people with less money and less exalted social networks were keen to imitate this, as a means of possible social advancement. But as university education has become more common, it is really only a humanities degree *from a prestigious institution* that has social value. So students who can't get into those institutions are making the rational calculation that a humanities degree will no longer advance them socially.

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Matt Yglesias is too well embedded in journalism. He takes his stories uncritically from the same well as so many others in his line of work. One would like to imagine reporters as individualists, but they are by nature herd animals.

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That is indeed a lot of Marx for a Legal Studies syllabus. Though I would take a course on Henry Maine, if I had time to take courses on things that interest me and that I did not pursue in law school.

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