Who’s Killing the Liberal Arts?



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 site built and maintained by College Measures.  Check it out at launchmycareertx.org.  The site calculates how much time and money is necessary to earn a 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.

I don’t have a problem with providing transparent, accessible information, 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 redefine the quality of post-secondary academic pursuits according to their economic and vocational value alone and the resulting denigration of the liberal arts.  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 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 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………….”

So we get 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 the list goes on.  Parents 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.  So who killed 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-studies junkies.

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