Universities: Euthanasia Or Suicide?

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I’ll be giving the keynote address for a National Association of Scholars conference at Grove City College next month on August 11. (Still time to register if you are in the hood or want to travel.) I decided to call my address “Should We Euthanize Universities Or Let Them Commit Suicide?” It will be a revision and extension of some of the themes I laid out in my lecture at Arizona State back in February that I called “The Intellectual Suicide of American Universities: Causes and Remedies.” (You can listen to that entire lecture on the Power Line Show, Episode 69. It will eventually be published in a conference volume, and I may yet turn it into a book.)

One of the points I made in that lecture is that universities would start to divide into practical subjects like business and economics and STEM sciences, and leave behind the humanities and social sciences:

I think we’re already seeing the beginnings of a de factodivorce of universities, in which the STEM fields and other “practical” disciplines essentially split off from the humanities and social sciences, not to mention the more politicized departments. One early sign—perhaps a canary in the university coal mine—can be seen in the recent announcement of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point campus that it is shuttering 13 departments in the humanities and social sciences, and laying off tenured faculty, on account of declining enrollment and budget pressures, and reallocating funds to STEM subjects.   Another sign are the economics departments that have begun subdividing themselves into “general economics” and an even more-math centric “quantitative econometrics.” Several economics departments are formally reclassifying themselves as STEM departments (there are federal guidelines for this) for a variety of reasons, but among them has to be wishing to disassociate themselves further from other social sciences.

Lo and behold, more economics departments are deciding to become STEM subjects, supposedly for advantages STEM classification provides (especially in attracting and keeping talented foreign students), but I am sure it is in part to disassociate themselves from the rest of the politicized social science disciplines. If nothing else, economics is the one social science field where degree earners have good job prospects, and which doesn’t need propping up.

The Economist reports:

Economics departments appear to be catching on. Yale and Columbia have both changed the code for their economics major in the past few months; five of the eight Ivy League Universities have now done so. Students at Pennsylvania and Cornell are agitating for a switch.

And the American Institute for Economic Research gives five more reasons why economics is better suited as a STEM subject. If you read through these five reasons carefully, it’s what they don’t say that stands out loudly. See what is implied by this passage, for example:

The objective of STEM programs is to create professionally and socially qualified individuals to overcome 21st-century challenges. For that reason, these courses should make students learn how to apply the scientific method to everyday life and acquire useful skills for real-world applications. Economics promotes and develops both of them.

Due to the prevalence of mathematics and pragmatism in economics, positivism is the dominant research method in the field. Therefore, economists examine real-world problems and evaluate feasible solutions through economic positivism, a scientific method.

Further, this degree encourages students to acquire or improve on relevant skills for today’s life, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, entrepreneurship and innovation, resourcefulness and resilience, teamwork and collaboration, and a sense of civic responsibility.

What—you means sociology and social psychology don’t do this? I’m shocked anyone would assert that economics is superior to these other social science fields. (/sarc off now)

CHASER—This article is really fun (though long):

How Social Science Might Be Misunderstanding Conservatives

Might be”? Ya think?

Responses

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