As the economic condition makes schools and universities take a long slow look at their finances, deciding what programs to continue and what to leave behind, it is becoming crucial to redefine what is important and not.
Now, more than ever, humanities programs in most educational institutions are already being discontinued. Though for most of the programs, the effort and motivation of everyone involved are appreciated, the simple fact is that the programs did not merit enough importance to run for another year or semester.
Most liberal arts courses include history, literature, cultural studies, gender studies, languages, religion and the arts. These days, students enrolling in a liberal arts program are discouraged. Some universities even turn away applicants into the programs. When faculty members resign or are transferred to another department, a few educational institutions no longer find replacements for them, wanting to keep their faculty members in the philosophy or language department to a minimum.
These are but only stopgap measures though. Some universities are now seriously considering whether to let their humanities programs continue or simply let them die a slow but inevitable death.
While one cannot help but lament current circumstances, budget cuts continue. In as much as universities want to provide kids with a liberal arts education, unless the economic landscape improves, it will continue to be out of reach for most students.
However, while liberal arts programs suffer in many universities, in top Ivy League Schools, the humanities departments continue to thrive. Endowments, donations and funds keep them alive. In these institutions, a liberal arts education is valued. Students are taken in, cared for, taught. Curriculums are developed. Time, patience and money are invested. They present an ideal breeding ground for a humanities education.
But first, students have to have the financial wherewithal to get into these universities and institutions
The scenario is all too familiar. The old struggle between the haves and have-nots. As they say, the humanities may, once again, go back to being “the province of the wealthy.” Yes, disheartening, certainly, particularly the way economic conditions have effectively cut off a greater portion of the populace from a humanities education.
In such conditions, it would be a much more difficult task for academicians in the liberal arts to disassociate themselves with the “Old Ivory Tower” perception. And while it is going to be interesting to watch efforts to develop literature or philosophy programs that offer economic value of any kind, in the confines of well-off academic institutions, it will not be that necessary. After all, the humanities is there to teach students every aspect of how it is to be human, to explore the human condition. And while critical, moral and ethical thinking is taught, the central essence of a liberal arts schooling is to think about life, about what we value in it, about what it means.
Meanwhile, students who can afford to attend major liberal art schools meet over wine and cheese while they listen in on a poetry reading. Philosophy majors are able to debate to no end the many different instances of existentialism. Painters can continue to produce abstract works that continue to delight a select few and confuse plenty. But compared to the divide between art and the practicalities of life, the long-time skirmish between the haves and have-nots still remains an even bigger and deeper chasm.