The alarming statistic that only 7.6% of college graduates in 2010 majored in the humanities, or that Harvard’s percentage of liberal arts degree holders has plummeted from 36% to 20% , served as a tocsin to muster a committee of 54 luminaries under the banner of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences to “study” the crisis. (Click here for Jane Shaw’s insightful description of the committee’s work.)
Their battle plan, code-named “The Heart of the Matter,” appears to be all heart and no matter. At least that is the impression gleaned from attending one of the dog and pony shows featuring committee members traveling the college circuit to enlist academic support. Their goal is to deploy “Master” teachers to “stem” the tide, pun intended, against the tsunami washing over the academy by the explosion of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
One such event, hosted by North Carolina State University, featured committee members General Karl W. Eikenberry, former ambassador to Afghanistan (2009-11), and co-chair of the Heart of the Matter quango Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University – the same Richard Brodhead who abandoned the values of his humanities background and sense of justice in condemning his own students at Duke by supporting the word of a “sex worker” who claimed lacrosse team members sexually assaulted her.
The question hangs in the air: Why choose as co-chair of a humanities rescue mission a man who committed treason against the very values the humanities teach?
General Eikenberry alluded to boots on the ground applications of the values of the liberal arts. And panelist Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, cited how his own liberal arts degree was useful in succeeding in three areas of his professional life he could not have predicted he would pursue. Panel member David Price, a former professor of political science, and today a US Congressman, personified the “let’s throw money at the problem” sensibilities of government involvement, demonstrating how Congress and blue ribbon committees like Heart of the Matter become so obsessed with star names and big budgets they fail to drill down and define or solve the problem.
Of course, the humanities and the traditional liberal arts are essential elements of a proper college education. But the Heart of the Matter committee did not confront the real problem: Even if a magic wand were waved, and all undergraduates were forced to take required courses in the liberal arts, their content would not be recognizable to those who passed through the curriculum 40 years ago.
In their successful campaign to discredit Western values and achievements — deemed to have succeeded via racism, chauvinism, imperialism and exploitation of the environment — out went the traditional liberal arts core curriculum, and in came a myriad of faux courses predicated on elevating the identity of the allegedly exploited, including Women’s, Black, Gay, Transsexual and Environmental Studies and their kin. The disguise for this subornation of an entire culture is Multiculturalism, one of those weasel words that cloaks the goal of undermining western culture with the inarguable position that students must study many other societies before learning about their own.
The devious codicil is that no culture is superior to another, meaning ours is not ranked high anymore due to its sins. In the radical myth dominant on campus, the poetry of New Guinea is on the same par as Byron; Matisse is equal in quality to urban graffiti. Self-esteem trumps achievement and social equity is valued over individual accomplishment. Consequently, a liberal arts degree today is more ideological agitprop than a sound background in our own culture.
The Heart of the Matter is not whether or not the humanities should be supported, but rather what can be done to regain their academic value and efficacy.