The Texas Association of Business and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce are touting a new resource to add significant transparency to the costs and benefits of various degree plans in higher education. The name of the initiative is Launch My Career, a web site built and maintained by College Measures. The site calculates how much time and money is necessary to earn a certain degree or industry certificate from Texas colleges and universities and compares this information with average salaries for the available jobs for each credential, cost of living information, and job satisfaction surveys. I have spent a little time on the site and it does provide quite a bit of data that will be useful in the deliberations of college-bound students and their families in their post-secondary choices. Check it out at www.launchmycareertx.org.
I don’t have a problem with more transparency, particularly with an issue like this that is suffering from such a shortage of it. My problem is the accelerating trend over the past decade or more to relegate the quality of substantially all post-secondary academic pursuits to their economic and vocational value alone and the resulting denigration of the liberal arts and humanities. This trend has reached the point that many university educators are experiencing increasing parental pressure against the liberal arts, so much so that large numbers of students are going to double majors–one to satisfy their interests and one for the demands of their parents.
The cost/value issue is certainly a key consideration that is easy to understand for those who must foot the college bill. The larger question is what has so undermined the perceived value of the liberal arts curriculum? Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute recently dug into the question, “Who Killed the Liberal Arts?” in a post for Prager University. As she sees it, the evolution of the liberal arts curriculum over the past couple of decades “seeks to infuse the humanities curriculum with the characteristic academic traits of our time: narcissism, an obsession with victimhood, and a relentless determination to reduce the stunning complexity of the past to identity and class politics”. Roger Kimball of The New Criterion identifies the primary culprit as the basically anti-Western ideology of multiculturalism: “Multiculturalism is a moral intoxicant; its thrill centers around the emotion of superior virtue…….Wherever the imperatives of multiculturalism have touched the curriculum, they have left broad swaths of anti-Western attitudinizing competing for attention with quite astonishing historical blindness. Courses on minorities, women’s issues, and the Third World proliferate………….The key issue is not partisan politics but rather the subordinating of intellectual life generally to non-intellectual, i.e., political imperatives.”
So we get such absurdities as English majors without any requirement for courses in Shakespeare, history majors without any serious study of American history other than race, class, and gender studies, and recently a report that George Washington University has eliminated its requirement for history majors to take a course in American history at all! And the list goes on. Parents have had it–they aren’t buying this liberal arts product and neither are the students, other than those who are lucky enough to attend a quality great books program grounded in a Western intellectual core.
And, as my daughter has added after reviewing a previous draft of this essay, there are three culprits here with varying degrees of culpability: the parents/students, the college trustees, and the employers–none of which demand with any serious moral suasion or vehemence that the curricula resist the poison of multiculturalism. Each of those three have had their hand in allowing liberal arts as a pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, truth, and a reasonable means of problem-solving to disintegrate slowly over decades. No wonder we are polarized; we are actively being taught polarization and are teaching our young citizens how to “group” people, divide them into factions, define them for their political power rather than for their potential as rationally-thinking humans.
So who is killing the liberal arts? It is simply a case of suicide for those institutions that didn’t stay ahead of the relevance curve and then sold out to the postmodern, multiculturalist, identity-study junkies.