Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Crisis of the Humanities

In the NYT, Stanley Fish laments the shuttering of several departments in the humanities at SUNY-Albany. He argues that since the humanities don't cover their costs, other universities will soon follow, whether they like it or not. He may be right that other universities will follow in SUNY's footsteps, but it is false that the humanities don't pay. Many run in surplus and cross-subsidize the sciences. Still, he puts his finger on the important role that requirements play in generating enrollments in some programs, and efforts to reduce or restructure requirements could have consequences for programs with many students but few majors. There has been talk at the U about reducing requirements so that students can graduate faster. And one does not have to maintain all those language faculty (and P&A language instructors) if language requirements are dropped. Be on the watch for reduced requirements as the opening salvo in a battle to close or merge departments. Of course, at the U closing/merging departments does not allow for the termination of tenured faculty, since our tenure lines reside in the U, not the school or department. But P&A can be non-renewed, so the lowest hanging fruit is to reduce demand for those programs that rely on many P&As. Of course, these are probably also some of the programs running in surplus, thanks to the low pay of P&As. The only hope for CLA is to challenge the current budget model that sucks up a large share of our revenues in cost pools.

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