Oh, the Inhumanities!

I’ve written before here and elsewhere that the humanities are dying by suicide at American universities, and that colleges and universities will begin a de facto division into science and tech institutions with a rump of dwindling and politicized humanities and social science fields at the margins. The humanities are dying at most colleges and universities, or to be more accurate, they are committing suicide with their complete embrace of leftism, subjectivist nihilism, and historicism that degrade what was always the prime attraction of the humanities—a portal to the wisdom of the past on the true, the good, and the beautiful. Most of the social sciences—with the exception of economics—are following close behind for similar reasons.

The number of students majoring in the humanities and social sciences, even at the premier Ivy League colleges, has fallen by about two-thirds over the last generation. This decline has been masked somewhat at most universities by the overall increase in student enrollment. It has also been masked by a change in classification that took place in 2001 in which students who were double-majoring in a humanities subject were counted as “majors” for statistical purposes.

The chart below from Ben Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, charts the decline of majors in the humanities going back to the 1960s. (Some other time it will be good to discuss the big spike in humanities majors in the 1960s, and then why it quickly reversed. I have several hypotheses about this.) Prof. Schmidt offers this as a mea culpa for his previous denial that the humanities were in decline:

The last five years have been brutal for almost every major in the humanities–it’s no longer reasonable to speculate that we are fluctuating around a long term average. . . I am now much more pessimistic about the state of humanities majors than I was five years ago. . . the drop in majors since 2008 has been so intense that I now think there is, in the only meaningful sense of the word, a crisis.

This is preface to a story appearing today in Inside Higher Ed about the travails of Earlham College in Indiana, a small Quaker-affiliated liberal arts college that used to enjoy a reputation as a decent niche school for the liberal arts. Now it is in a financial crisis, with some doubts about its long-term survival. Another thing I have been predicting is not only that humanities and social science departments will shrink or be abolished—it is already happening at some places—but that many small liberal arts colleges will fold up in the coming years.

But there is one more point to be made about faith-based colleges like Earlham. One thing that is largely unreported these days is that most supposedly Christian or evangelical colleges have become just as rotten as the worst secular universities. Scratch a supposedly “faith-based” college, and you’ll find nearly all of their leading sentiments fall in line with today’s secular left. I recall visiting George Fox College in Oregon a few years ago—like Earlham, a Quaker-affiliated school that is supposedly different from secular universities—and being harangued by a deep leftist professor from the philosophy department about Foucault. You will find this at Gordon College, Wheaton, etc, etc. I’ve known a couple of very liberal graduates of Earlham tell me they found the political correctness of the place to be stifling, and consequently that their humanities instruction there was gravely defective. If this is what’s on offer from supposed faith-based colleges, you might as well just save your tuition money and send your kid to Evergreen State.

The Inside Higher Ed story about Earlham gives away the story indirectly, if you know how to decode some of this:

Worries mount that the college has strayed too far from its liberal arts core. Suspicions run high that college leaders reached recent important decisions without regard for one of the key governance principles rooted in its Quaker identity: consensus.

Consensus, of course, means yielding to the left.

The spate of soul-searching comes after several years of eroding financial indicators. Earlham has been using money from its endowment to plug a gap between the revenue it collects and larger sums it spends. At the same time, its net tuition revenue per student has been declining. . .

In the 2013 fiscal year, Earlham collected $15,100 in net tuition revenue per student. It collected just $12,000 per student in 2018. The college’s tuition and fees totaled $40,020 per student in 2013 and $45,750 in 2018, not counting room and board. Over that five-year period, its cumulative net cash outflows exceed inflows by more than $47 million.

Cue the death-spiral countdown.

Concerned alumni also point out that the college’s curriculum has been redone several times in recent years. “When we were going through the course of study as students in the 1980s with the required humanities sequence, it was very much a liberal arts program,” said Loren Lybarger, who graduated from Earlham in 1986. “That seems to be completely gone.” . . .

The 2015 strategic plan was built on pillars that essentially stand against many of the things Earlham has been in the past, said Catherine Kemp, who graduated from Earlham in 1987, one of several alumni who started a Facebook group for those concerned about Earlham and who co-authored an online petitiondemanding Price’s reinstatement.

“I’m not saying that as a nostalgic alum from the ’80s,” Kemp said. “I’m saying it as someone who can look at language.”

Not hard to read between the lines here. Like many colleges, you can see Earlham following where the two-headed market forces are—the demands of students for practical instruction to get jobs some day, and the demands of the vocal wacko faculty for trendy politicized curricula:

Earlham pumped millions into science and technology facilities in recent years. It also added 13 new positions before the 2016-17 academic year in biology, business, chemistry, computer science, environmental studies, international studies, psychology and support for three interdisciplinary centers in social justice, global health and entrepreneurship and innovation.

And this passage toward the end is a real hoot:

Leaders had hoped that past investments, like those in facilities and new faculty positions, would help Earlham gain net tuition revenue. Instead, the college seems to have been keeping up with the competition, not breaking away from it. “There was some hope we were getting ahead, and it has not panned out that way,” Logan said.

Here’s an idea: don’t follow “the competition.” How about offering a traditional education that takes the Quaker faith seriously? It’s so crazy it just might work! See: Hillsdale.

Responses

Books to read from Power Line