The Globe and the Journal report that Harvard is desperately trying to boost interest in the humanities.

From the Globe:

The report takes aim at the declining number of Harvard students who major in the humanities, which also include English, religion, and romance languages. Since 2003, the number majoring in the humanities dropped from 21 percent to 17 percent, and the number who considered such majors has fallen off sharply.

Over the past eight years, more than half of students who said before arriving at Harvard that they planned to concentrate in the humanities wound up choosing another major, the report found.

From the Journal:

This “is an anti-intellectual moment, and what matters to me is that we, the people in arts and humanities, find creative and affirmative ways of engaging the moment,” said Diana Sorensen, Harvard’s dean of Arts and Humanities.”

An interesting quote; I started to wonder what Sorensen was referring to when she used the term “anti-intellectual moment,” until I read a bit further in the article.

The weaker job prospects in certain fields have led four Republican governors to call for funding cuts at departments in public universities that they don’t believe prepare students for the workforce.

“If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine, go to private school,” North Carolina GOP Gov. Patrick McCrory said in a radio interview in January. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if it’s not going to get someone a job.”

Okay—an anti-intellectual moment.

Part of me hates the idea that the point of college is “to prepare someone for a job.” I prefer Harvard’s argument that the point of college is to create educated men and women. What McCrory is really promoting is essentially education as industrial policy, which is something we used to associate with the neoliberals of the 1980s, only in a somewhat perverted way. The problem with industrial policy, as the Republicans used to point out, is that it’s extremely hard for government to know exactly what to invest in to prepare people for jobs and strengthen the country’s economic future. And, of course, we don’t only want people to have good jobs, we want them to be thoughtful citizens who have grappled with moral and philosophical issues. Otherwise, you get Mark Zuckerberg, a success without a soul.

It’s sad that Harvard has to generate interest in the humanities, but you can’t say it’s surprising. Even Harvard grads have to be concerned about the job market, and when you’re paying so much money for college, it’s very hard to think of it as just a time to think and learn. Plus, today’s Harvard students have spent most of their lives thinking of everything they’re doing in the present as fodder for their Harvard applications, and that forward-looking utilitarianism is a hard mindset to abandon; you can’t just ask them to stop thinking thusly the moment they set foot in Harvard Yard. To do so would be to rebuke the very methodology that landed the students at Harvard in the first place.

This is, I think, a stressful moment in higher education, with so many profound questions about its purpose and its future simmering. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Drew Faust to articulate an educational agenda and philosophy for Harvard and higher education in general. I’m just not hearing it from her.