Torching the Humanities: A Response

Here’s an interesting post by my prof. at CU, Ben Hale, on his blog. Indeed an excellent response to the reality, not only the idea, of doing away with the humanities in a university. What an intelligent destruction of the opponent! Here the full text. Below an excerpt:

Then there’s the question of whether the state legislature’s inaction gave you no other choice. I’m sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian – and authoritarian – solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I’m not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing ‘unfortunate’, but pleaded that there was a ‘limited availability of appropriate large venue options.’ I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don’t have much clout at your university.

It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn’t have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn’t want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There’s so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders – if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don’t.

2 thoughts on “Torching the Humanities: A Response

  1. In reading this I raised to myself the question – What does this have to do with environmental issues? At one level the issue appears to be an academic debate outside the reality of day to day nature. But upon reflection, it has everything to do with God’s creation. I am not in Academia and do not know all the politics involved but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the need for humanities in education.

    While there are many critics of the humanities the name itself explains the need for them – “humanities”. The humanities and related social sciences provide insights to the human condition that is necessary if we are to act as stewards for creation. One could make the case that Jesus was instructing us in the humanities with His parables. Without the humanities we become a culture of technocrats without any moral or value bearings.

    1. Yes, there’s certainly that angle. But furthermore it makes you wonder on how the demise of the humanities affects our studies of the environment. Take an issue like climate change for example and we can see already this bias. Most of the discussion is dominated by science, and as we are seeing now in Cancun, science hasn’t been able to deliver a solution. Other perspectives show that climate change is as much, if not more, about values, ethics, politics, philosophy and culture, as it is about science. But we will not be able to address these issues that belong to the humanities if our institutions don’t even recognize the fields of study. I experience this already in academia, unable to get funding for my research area while the sciences are ‘loaded’. This bias will impoverish the way we see the environment in the long run.

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