With Humanities Programs Being Cut at Many Universities, Ellen Schrecker Weighs in on What Students Stand to Lose

Should humanities programs be saved at public universities that are hard pressed to meet the needs of all sorts of students? Are they luxuries that are “nice to have” but not what taxpayers need to support? What’s lost, if anything, if they are eliminated? Ellen Schrecker, professor of history at Stern College for Women, offers her opinion in The New York Times’ Room for Debate.

Unegalitarian Assumptions

Ellen Schrecker

Goodbye, humanities, hello, vocational education. Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between higher education and job training. And, what we are seeing today is the vocationalization of American higher education.

Given the long-term cutbacks in state support for public colleges and universities that has forced those institutions to rely ever more heavily on tuition revenues, is it any wonder that so many of them slough off the liberal arts and offer more job-oriented courses of study?

That’s what students and their parents supposedly want, especially at a time when they view college as an investment that should lead to an immediate economic pay-off. But that kind of short-term thinking is damaging — to students, to higher education, and to our society as a whole.

Today’s undergraduates will probably go through at least six career changes before they retire from the workforce. Courses that are narrowly tailored to particular jobs may not serve them well if the equipment these students have learned to work with becomes obsolete or the jobs they trained to fill migrate to South Asia. They need the more flexible educational background that the humanities can provide. Read full article at The New York Times.

Ellen Schrecker is a professor of history at Yeshiva University. She is the author of several books, including “The Lost Soul of Higher Education” (The New Press) and “Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America” (Princeton University Press).