Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nostrum Fatum: Humanities on the Downward Slope

Randall Stephens

This will be an outside scoop item for those of you who saw William M. Chace's "The Decline of the English Department," American Scholar (Autumn 2009). But for those who didn't, Chace raises some interesting questions for English and other departments now fighting it out with fewer students and less support than in decades past. His essay goes along with similar topics Chris Beneke discussed here in recent months.

Here's Chace:

During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons—the many reasons—for what has happened. . . .

Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):

English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent

Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent

History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent

Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent

Off-campus, the consumer’s point of view about future earnings and economic security was a mirror image of on-campus thinking in the offices of deans, provosts, and presidents. . . .

Well worth a close read

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