Sunday, October 17, 2010

22. The liberal arts do not attract investment.

Research institutions are increasingly dependent on professional begging. In part, this involves hiring development officers whose job it is to find benefactors and encourage ever larger donations from them. Even more important is grant-writing. Researchers apply for grants from either private or public entities (often the federal government) in the hope that their particular research projects will be funded for a given number of years. When a professor “wins” a grant, he or she can buy equipment, pay for lab space, and fund graduate student assistants. Grant-writing (like development) is now a profession, because it has become so important as a source of income for research institutions.

What does this have to do with the liberal arts? Apart from the sciences, virtually nothing. And that is a problem for the liberal arts. Money will pour into universities for medical, scientific, or other research that is deemed important either to the public interest, or to business interests with a stake in the knowledge produced by a specific line of research. While there are sources of funding for the non-science liberal arts (such as the National Endowment for the Humanities), they are minuscule in number compared to those available to other branches of academe. There is no doubt that there is a certain freedom afforded to math or philosophy or French professors who are not dependent on grants, but external funding is a reflection of the relative importance that society places on the various academic disciplines. It is indicative of the fact that many of the traditional liberal arts are increasingly out of place in the modern research university.



33 comments:

  1. This is one of the saddest things I learned from being in graduate school (and now adjunctland and on the job market) -- that the investment value of what we do within the university is determined by the capitalist values of our society at large. Really, is there a monetary value that can be placed on what we gain from studying literature or history or philosophy? Yes, there is value, but it's value that doesn't translate easily into money. Hence the cutting of programs and the shamefully low salaries and general exploitation of people who are willing to work for "love rather than money."

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    1. Perhaps, but remember that the money isn't just created out of thin air; eventually, it comes from someone paying taxes. When you keep that in mind, it's a bit harder to justify someone spending 1/3 of their hours working at a factory in order for you to pursue your love of medieval literature.

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    2. The point is not that a taxpayer is helping someone pursue their love of medieval literature; the point is that the study of medieval literature, and the training of someone to be an expert in that literature in order to teach it, provides students with something of value. Is it "intangible"? Perhaps, if you call knowledge, historical consciousness, the ability to synthesize information across different domains of knowledge, empathy, the ability to generate new ideas from the study of others, ethical reflection, etc "intangible." There is less and less of this at the college level and more focus on "job skills." But employers want students with these broad-based "skills"--communication, the ability generate ideas, critical thinking--that they have always associated with liberal arts education. I say this as someone who works with undergraduates and employers, so I know of what I speak. This short-sightedness has already had an impact on the focus of the students I teach. The person working in the factory, by the way, should be able to take advantage of the knowledge of that medieval lit grad student, if not directly (and I say, by all means, directly if possible), then indirectly through a better-education, more thoughtful civic culture. We can only reap what we sow.

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    3. (typo--"better educated," of course.)

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    4. "But employers want students with these broad-based "skills"--communication, the ability generate ideas, critical thinking--that they have always associated with liberal arts education."

      Yes, employers say they want that. They also say they want employees with applicable skills. And education. And prior experience. Preferable over a decade of prior experience. And willing to work nights and weekends. And healthy. And able to work with anyone. And willing to spend years in a dead-end job. And with quantitative skills (calculus does not count - I know). And computing skills. And willing to work cheap with unpaid overtime. And not too old. And not too young. Preferably attractive. No employment gaps. No people who have done more than two things in their lives. Only rainbow unicorns need apply.

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    5. Higher education is not exempt from economic laws, and this is reflected in adjunctification and weak support for the humanities. The big problem is that people are led to believe that it would somehow be any different.

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    6. There really isn't an economic law that defines weak support for the humanities. What there is, is perception of value - and there is value in the preservation of culture and the examination of history.

      These unglamorous pursuits attract little funding, but it is the lack of wider appreciation of these that leads to easily avoidable problems that cost a good deal more.

      Conversely, there is a broad variety of politically-directed "research" and advocacy guaranteed to solve any number of ill-considered and even made-up problems, that garners billions - and even trillions - in funding. It's a matter of priorities. The cry of "We must save the planet!" is far more compelling than "we must try to understand our history" - even when it transpires that the supposed threat is entirely made up and in support of dubious political motives.

      The culture we save may be our own.

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  2. Kathrynn Seidler EngbergOctober 26, 2010 at 7:20 PM

    I wrote and helped win a 2.5 million dollar NSF grant that pays summer salary, supplies, travel, etc, by adding a humanities component. Writing and reading comprehension are essential to doing well in science.

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  3. Anonymous #1, have you considered that it's not society's responsibility to immediately understand the relevance of, say, 17th century French drama? I agree that there's a value to research and scholarship in the humanities, but it's not immediately apparent to a lot of people. If you believe there is value to what you do, it's YOUR responsibility to make your case to the rest of society.

    And, to be perfectly frank, I can sort of see the opposite viewpoint. You can fund two research programs: one exploring the effects of global warming on crop yields, and the other the influence of Romantic poetry on English society circa 1810. The second one holds value, sure, but...what's more relevant right now, in this world?

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    1. That's easy, one is a lot of hot air...


      ... and the other is research on the influence of Romantic poetry on English society ca. 1810.

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  4. This pisses me off. Especially in English, the market value of adjuncts is phenomenally high. English adjuncts (including myself) are in the position they're in because they're too stupid to know better. Every PhD in the nation and most MAs could easily be employed if universities and colleges were required to hire a smaller number of full time people for the ridiculous number of part time people. No university or college in the country could function without their adjuncts. English adjuncts in particular need to learn the word strike. So far, I've seen little interest. But you're all welcome to join me. englishunionization@gmail.com

    Also see: Myspace

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  5. And, building on the last comment, knowing that society at large tends to undervalue humanities degrees, what the hell is anybody doing studying the humanities these days? A humanities degree leaves you zero options outside your field and nearly hopeless chances inside it. You will never enjoy plentiful funding, jobs, or recognition. So why bother? Capitalist or not, we all gotta eat, and you can read French literature all you want in your spare time.

    I'd have loved to pursue a thesis on astrobiology myself, but I ended up studying restoration ecology. I enjoyed it nearly as much, and it set me up with actual expertise and skills for a job with a federal agency.

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    1. geez, thanks for bursting my bubble. Now I don't feel like it's even worth pursuing a B.A in English.

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    2. Of all humanities degrees, English is the best to go for, even if society continues to undermine it's usefulness. They're very versatile. You just have to learn what you can do with yours. You could be a lawyer, an editor, work for the news, be a writer of all kinds not just the pop culture stuff...It's a very diverse degree that doesn't get the credit it deserves. Plus the skills you learn in it are extremely helpful if you aren't good/all that into math, science, or business.

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    3. Yes, you too can be unemployed in a wide variety of occupations.

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    4. Language majors have the highest entry-level salaries (that's both foreign and English, in that order) of all liberal arts majors in 2014. And if you think it is all about entry-level jobs, google "English major CEO." The "buzz" about how "useless" any particular liberal arts major is (usually English is singled out, because it is a big department) has been BS for a long time. You have to be good at what you do, of course. Because everyone assumes they are ready to go to college at 18, there are plenty of people who drift into liberal arts majors when they really shouldn't be at college yet; in order to do well after college, you have to, you know, be GOOD at what you choose to pursue. There are a lot of mediocre students out there--doesn't matter what major you choose.

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    5. "Language majors have the highest entry-level salaries (that's both foreign and English, in that order) of all liberal arts majors in 2014."
      ... and your source is?

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  6. I'm not swayed by the argument that without adjuncts, humanities PhD's would all be full professors. Imagine that every professor trains a dozen grad students over the course of his/her 30 year long career. For them all to find tenure track jobs, the number of professorships available would have to increase by a factor of 12 every 30 years! And I'm guessing those are very conservative estimates- the average career may well be longer, and the grad student:professor ratio higher. How can that many people possibly find work unless their field grows at a truly unsustainable rate?

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  7. "the number of professorships available would have to increase by a factor of 12 every 30 years!"

    Well, liberal arts colleges, state colleges, and community colleges (the latter two being the very places most likely to hire adjuncts) generally don't train graduate students. There is an oversupply, but it is not as simple as that.

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  8. What I find interesting about Anonymous 5:18 is that she/he thinks that a union to "fight" for better working conditions and opportunities for adjuncts is the obvious course of action. Another course would be to leave your adjunct position and find other employment. If adjuncts did this in droves, then we might find out how important or not adjuncts are. And, maybe, leaving adjuncthood might lead ultimately to a better standard of living and some happiness.

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    1. Try unionizing in an anti-union right to work state like Mississippi or Oklahoma or Kansas. Even the full time faculty won't support you. Good luck

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  9. when b-ball players and other imbeciles can make $26,000,000 a year playing balls--why would one play with grad "school" the public is very interested and truly passionate about sports and gossip. that is where the MONEY is. that is america. The avg. imbecile could not care less about oboes, scientific principles, or van gogh, they care about sports, snookii, and who can dance. that is america.

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  10. Anonymous, putting people down does not improve your argument. It will also not attract grant money.

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    1. Anonymous 1/14/2011 2:25 PM has made some important points here. American culture, thought, and public life are definitely on a downward trajectory.

      Take a look at the history of the Internet. In the early 90s people who became active in the development of the Internet hypothesized that the Internet could lead to an intellectual renaissance, with online academic exchanges and free communication improving scholarship. Instead, we got commercials, lots of porn, and a proliferation of public stupidity. We've even developed ways to use internet-based tools to undermine political speech and affect election outcomes.

      Does any of this matter? Apparently not - the average American is more concerned with 'bling,' 'Kardashians' and 'selfies.'

      The country is circling the drain as we speak.

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  11. And yet, the U.S. is slipping behind in science and mathematics. I would also say that the philosophy of science has stagnated, when is the last time we had a deeper insight into the nature of the universe? The Theory of Relativity? Almost a hundred years ago, nowadays we have a lot of scientism and engineering, the practical applications of which have not made the U.S. a prosperous nation.

    When Bessemer discovered his process he created a very profitable industry, but today we are heavily invested in medical fields (as different from actual "health" if we were dedicated to maintaining and promoting health the medical field would take a back slide) which are not profitable because they produce no real goods.

    Very ironic that as the West delves deeper and deeper into microspecialization (I mean seriously why do you need a special field in 'grant writing' the professors who run these programs haven't had 20+ years of education? That they need to hire someone with a certificate?) we collapse more and more slowly.

    Interestingly enough the Islamic world in the 11th-14th centuries had an academic boom of a proliferation of universities. Their thoughts were the same as the modern West: more education equals more profit and prosperity generation. Didn't work as we can see by the European Renaissance and subsequent decline of the Islamic world.

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    1. Hmm...

      I would argue that the power of the Islamic world relative to Europe was ahead or equivalent until the 18th century. It only became clear Europe was really ahead when they went to war (again) in the Napoleonic era.

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  12. I think you're using "liberal arts" and "the humanities" interchangeably. this blog post is about the humanities, NOT the liberal arts. there is no such thing as a "liberal arts department." the liberal arts are skills: critical thinking, rhetoric, logical reasoning, etc. they're meta-skills that have virtually nothing to do with academic departments/majors.

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  13. I do not care about job market - humanities never had it.
    Expecting to earn money on humanity studies is a madness, and it means that you have not learned anything from them. Anyway, you are also as Anonymous has noticed, using the wrong definition.
    Ad majora
    Ale

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  14. I found that at my college, they actually gave more money to Biology and Liberal arts divisions over the other hard sciences each year. Even more than that though, I would say to beware of the colleges that have a lot of public attention in sports teams and paraphernalia with public and private donations. Nearly all of the money donated will go to the football team or basketball team in American colleges who regularly compete.

    I find that at least at my college, the only way the department has ever gotten major money is in the research that as done in the past. If your chemistry or physics branch develops a drug or oil refining method that nets them billions, you will have department funding without a doubt.

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    1. @Anonymous (August 21, 2013 at 1:49 PM):

      You may like to check this out:
      < http://overland.org.au/2011/02/%E2%80%98oh-the-humanities%E2%80%99-or-a-critique-of-crisis >

      I reckon you know what I mean when I state (no pun intended) that "Australia is NOT Canada".

      All best for 2014,
      Anti-منافق


      P.S. This article may clarify some conceptual gaps:
      < http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/humanities-in-the-hands-of-informed-citizens/story-e6frgcko-1226116070926 >

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  15. "Money will pour into universities for medical, scientific, or other research that is deemed important either to the public interest, or to business interests with a stake in the knowledge produced by a specific line of research."

    Let's examine the frightening reality behind this statement.

    The National Institutes of Health funded the following recently:

    - $2,400,000 for a new condom based on origami techniques, designed by a Mr. Daniel Resnic. Resnic received his first funding for a feasibility study in 2006, proceeded to clinical trials in 2007, and received grants to develop male, female and anal versions between 2009 and 2012. Resnic apparently used NIH grant money to travel, receive extensive plastic surgery, attend Playboy Mansion parties, buy consumer goods, produce a reality TV show called "Extreme Office Makeover, and develop other "inventions" including a salad bar lunch container. As Kenny Rogers sang, "You've got to know when to fold 'em."

    - $257,000 was spent developing a companion website for first lady Michelle Obama's White House garden. Most people can't get that kind of subsidy to have a garden, much less a promotional campaign for one. While we might appreciate that this is a Big Deal for Mrs. Obama, which has already garnered many pages worth of critical and political praise over several years, it is nonetheless revealing that this colossal waste of resources could not have been addressed by, say, hiring an unemployed college student willing to undertake a part-time internship in political propaganda, or writing her graduate school thesis on "Children of the Corn: Internet-mediated Portrayals of Over-represented Vegetables."

    - $592,000 went to research relating to "The neural and cognitive correlates of aimed throwing in chimpanzees: a magnetic resonance image and behavioural study on a unique form of social tool use."
    Chimps who throw shit accurately were found to be superior communicators, and are apparently engaging in a kind of tool use, as well as what may have been the earliest form of speech. We should ask, does this make them crap artists too? (Amazingly, this study was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society). Another $117,000 was spent in pursuit of the discovery that most chimpanzees are right-handed -apparently the observing scientists were too busy dodging to actually see which hands the chimpanzees were using.

    - $2,870,000 has been budgeted over the last four years starting in 2011, of which $670,567 is budgeted in 2014, to ask "Why are lesbians disproportionately overweight or obese?" The question is said to be of high public-health significance. Perhaps it has something to do with willingness to participate in pie-eating contests.

    - $642,561 was spent learning how inner-city teenagers with acquaintances that own firearms, drink, and hang out on street corners wind up in emergency rooms with gunshot wounds. This is part of NIH's broader mission to control "gun disease (inflamed guns?)" which apparently it has pursued off-and-on for many years at a total cost of some $7,600,000.

    - $3,200,000 has been spent to determine long-term effects of binge drinking on primates. As of the time of this writing it has not been determined whether the monkeys will imbibe cognac, small-distillery whiskeys imported from islands in Scotland, or Patron tequila. It is rumored that Jagermeister and a number of fruit-flavored schnapps have been proposed as cost-cutting alternatives. Apparently it has also been proposed that a number of NIH sexual behavior studies (apparently always crowd-pleasers at the NIH) involving alcohol might profitably be carried out simultaneously. Movie and cable television rights are still being optioned.

    As Jesse Pinkman ("Breaking Bad") said, "YAY! SCIENCE, BEYOTCH!" This humble reporter finds he has little to add in the face of this awesome investment in our future.

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  16. I graduated from university in 1998 with a B.S. in History. I started grad school and made it 12 to 15 hours before deciding to stop.

    I had a well paying job within a couple of years of graduating high school . The main reason I went on to college and university is because I wanted to be an educated person and I also wanted to learn how to learn how to teach myself. Once that goal was accomplished I had no further reason to stay in the university.

    It seemed to me that the students in grad school were not really learning much. Yes, on paper it looked like it was harder than undergrad but it really wasn't. They would skim through whatever book they were assigned to read for that week the night before and then give a little five minute talk about their book. We would all take notes on everyon else said about their books, and then use the notes to write the paper due at the end of the semester. It seemed we were not retaining any of the information but forgetting it as soon as we were done. There were probably eight to ten books throughout the semester each person would have to read.

    When I get interested in a subject and study it on my own I will go out and find 40 or 50 books on that subject written by credentialed people in the field and read them I find the reviews written by their peers, find out something about the authors themselves, ect to make sure they are somewhat credible. I feel I learn more on my own than I ever did at university.

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  17. Do these 100 reasons apply to graduate programs in the field of Statistics?

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