Stop taking the humanities for granted: A letter to Inside Higher Ed

Last month Inside Higher Ed posted an article arguing for charging lower tuition to humanities majors. The argument in that piece is grounded in unchallenged and false assumptions that pervade the conversation around the humanities.

I wrote a letter to the editor in response, “No Discipline is Less Valuable than Another.” Read the full piece at that link. Much of what I wrote in the letter was drawn from the open letter I wrote to Marquette’s upper administration a few years ago.

“No discipline is less valuable than another. A discounted tuition model risks setting us up for further inequity in the academy and across disciplines. If we keep saying that the humanities are in crisis and claim that humanities have lower earning potential than other majors, we will be our own undoing. Who would want a major that’s in crisis and has supposedly lower earning potential? The transformative power of higher education lies in an institution’s ability to help students—and faculty—articulate how classes across disciplines, extracurriculars, and lived experience speak to one another and form students’ minds, hearts, and ways of being in the world. Let’s not create models that will undermine that.”

Liz Angeli, Inside HigherEd, December 12, 2022

The work of the humanities is often invisible. We can easily see the products that STEM fields create: bridges, highways, computers, cars, medicine, etc. Where are the humanities in these products? They live in the very processes that lead to their existence. Collaboration. Curiosity. Purpose. Learning how to ask questions no one has thought of. Synthesizing multiple perspectives. Holding opposing viewpoints simultaneously and working through them. Creative and analytical thinking. Explaining complex problems in easily understandable ways. Persuading people about the promise and value of an innovative idea.

The humanities are everywhere. They’re often taken for granted. Let’s not continue down that path by creating and continuing to use tuition, faculty salary, and research funding structures that clearly place less value on the humanities.

Questions to ponder

  • What are your feelings towards the humanities? Have you been taught to value or dismiss them?
  • How has analytical and creative thinking, empathy, communication, organization, and research played a role in your life?
  • Where did you learn those skills?
  • Think about the different areas of your life where you encounter the humanities, for example, by enjoying local music or art, teaching students, or serving as a university administrator. How can you demonstrate you value the humanities (i.e., donate to a local artist or public media, support a Kickstarter campaign, create class activities that cultivate listening skills, allocate an equal amount of funds across departments/colleges)?

2 thoughts on “Stop taking the humanities for granted: A letter to Inside Higher Ed

  1. This article makes me wonder what it actually costs students in different disciplines to get degrees even if their tuitions are nominally the same. My guess is that some disciplines have significantly higher textbook, supplies, and field placement costs than others. In some fields, an undergraduate degree is sufficient. In others, an advanced degree is necessary if one wants to have a career in the field. In that sense, perhaps we already have differential “tuition” rates because students are paying premiums in some fields.

Leave a Reply