Colleges and Universities Seek Support for Humanities

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November 8, 2010; Source: Boston.com | With donors increasingly favoring the sciences, colleges and universities are having a hard time these days raising money for humanities programs. And as growing numbers of students choose business and other courses linked to professional careers, that trend is also adding to the challenges college and university presidents face as they try to make the case that liberal arts still matter.

Rather than just sitting back and counting the cash that donors are providing for the programs they prefer, the Boston Globe reports that the leaders of colleges such as Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard are talking up the humanities and even upping their schools’ investments in the “besieged disciplines” of literature and the arts. “If, because of cutbacks and lack of support from the federal government, literature and the arts and other aspects of the humanities become just parlor musings of the wealthy, we would have made a huge mistake,’’ said Dartmouth President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. “Literature and the arts should not only be for kids who go to cotillion balls to make polite conversation at parties.’’

Despite the very public effort by Kim and other college and university presidents to rekindle interest in humanities, it’s an uphill task, and one not being helped by the economy. As the Globe notes, “In these difficult economic times, the argument for the humanities can sound, to some, impractical and elitist.” Still, some warn that ‘s a shortsighted view. As the papers adds, college presidents fear that without a liberal arts education “students won’t develop the kind of critical thinking, imagination, and empathy necessary to solve the most pressing problems facing future generations.”

Beyond talking them up, some colleges and universities are spending more, not less, on the humanities. Brandeis recently opened the new $22.5 million Mandel Center for the Humanities. Brown is using $3 million it received to support a new humanities initiative and recruit international scholars to its Providence campus. Indian businessman Anand Mahindra recently awarded Harvard $10 million to support collaborations among the humanities and other academic disciplines.—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Susan de la Vergne

    It’s too bad so many people think of the humanities as impractical when, in fact, communication, analytical skills and critical thinking are highly prized in business and leadership and are, of course, exactly what a good humanities education supplies. Students can use more encouragement, too, to understand just how useful and practical their education is to future career prospects. Information available at http://www.LiberalArtsAdvantage.com.