How to Fix the Humanities

Over on the Minding the Campus website, there’s a symposium up today on how to fix the humanities in higher education, with contributions from seven fine thinkers.  Mine is listed first:

Rescuing the humanities from the slough of postmodernism and its other debilitating afflictions would require replacing many of the current faculty in our universities with new faculty that is not hostile to our civilization and its principles.  This is not going to happen any time soon.

But here’s an alternative that might be practicable to try out: since most of the humanities do not require the close classroom instruction in technical skill like organic chemistry, how about having students in English, history, philosophy, and other humanities courses meet for the first month of classes by themselves–no professors, no teaching assistants.  Just appoint a discussion leader from the class and then read and discuss the texts (original texts only–no textbooks) amongst themselves.  If students feel they need some adult supervision or instruction to keep on track, they could be encouraged to survey the best of the MOOCs on the subject together in class.

Indeed, taking in a range of MOOCs would probably present students with a wider range of views–we might almost say a diversity of views–that would soon find many faculty ideologues and mediocrities with vanishing course registration.  All this needs is a brave provost or dean willing to experiment.  Just the suggestion of something like this recently at San Jose State University provoked a furious faculty backlash.  The provost had suggested using Michael Sandel’s online course on justice; the philosophy department was not amused, which shows it’s probably a good idea.