Even Harvard College Profs Can Learn

The humanities are in a state of decline across the nation. Once the main field of study, today only 7.6 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are awarded in the traditional liberal arts. Harvard, which has seen a decline in students with majors in the humanities from 21 percent in 2003 to 17 percent today, has taken an in-depth look at the problem (that is, in-depth for a mainstream organization) and produced a report entitled The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping the Future.

Ursinus political-science professor Jonathan Marks reviewed Mapping the Future in Commentary and discovered that even Harvard College humanists recognize that undergraduate teaching has grown too attuned to professors’ narrow fields of research and must be “reinvigorated by revisiting the so-called canon.” Even more amazing is that the Harvardians perceived “a kernel of truth in conservative fears of the left-leaning academy” (their words, not Marks’s) and were willing to state it publicly. In such new awareness, Marks sees a hope for a revival of the liberal arts even as enrollment continues its decades-long decline.

While Mapping the Future is indeed a promising document, I’m still not entirely sold until I hear details. It may be that the “so-called canon” Harvard returns to is made up of the usual lefty academic suspects such as Marx, Foucalt, Derrida, and assorted Frankfurt School members.  

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