Saturday, January 2, 2010

On marketing a liberal arts degree

The New York Times recently ran this piece on the declining merits of a liberal arts degree, and the increasingly popular trend of universities' eliminating majors that few students choose for their major paths. These cuts include classics at Michigan State, and philosophy at the University of Louisiana - Lafayette.

Of course, people who study Latin have fewer career trajectory options than those who study biology, but I wonder who, if anybody, will be the knowledge-keepers in the upcoming generations if we are to so devalue whole disciplines? The abandonment of information is alarming, especially given the resource redirection towards the pursuit of economics and other lucrative "sciences," for example.

That is, students are not "choosing" so much to not study classics, but the economic climate and overall values system of our political/social order encourages - or better, coerces them - into pursuing more "useful" degree programs.

I know my degree in "Equality Studies" will not set me up for a six-figure salary anytime soon, but what I have learned in college is arguably as important as that which my peers have studied in business school. I have a broader perspective on history and the social "sciences." Most importantly, I understand and value the human element, something often (and tragically) lost in political and economic equations.

I joke with Gallatinista friends that we find jobs through which we try to undo the damage caused by people who make a lot more money. Thanks to the university structure, even finding these jobs is becoming harder. Our interests and sensitivities are delegitimized by the profit-seeking bureaucracy, but maybe that is the best training we could receive for entering the real world. At least our degrees will have Latin on them: maybe the last vestige of a well-rounded education.