By Isaac Butler
The Times has a piece-- 33 paragraphs long-- about that evergreen topic that goes by the name "the crisis in the humanities," in this case, discussing declining interest and enrollment:
The concern that the humanities are being eclipsed by science goes far beyond Stanford.
At some public universities, where funding is eroding, humanities are being pared. In September, for example, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania announced that it was closing its sparsely populated degree programs in German, philosophy, and world languages and culture.
At elite universities, such departments are safe but wary. Harvard had a 20 percent decline in humanities majors over the last decade, a recent report found, and most students who say they intend to major in humanities end up in other fields. So the university is looking to reshape its first-year humanities courses to sustain student interest.
There's just one problem: There likely isn't declining interest and enrollment and the article itself even admits it:
The future of the humanities has been a hot topic this year, both in academia and the high-culture media. Some commentators sounded the alarm based on federal data showing that nationally, the percentage of humanities majors hovers around 7 percent — half the 14 percent share in 1970. As others quickly pointed out, that decline occurred between 1970, the high point, and 1985, not in recent years.
In other words, there hasn't actually been a decline in nearly thirty years.
But that's not all! The stat in the above paragraph? The one about "the percetange of humanities majors" hovering around 7 percent? It turns out to be wrong too, and easily checkable. Go look at this chart (h/t for pointing me the way to Freddie DeBoer) from the national center for education statitstics. The % of total Bachelors that went to humanities majors in 1970 is seventeen point one percent. The % in 2010 is also seventeen percent.
Like with Social Security, we are talking here about a "crisis" that does not appear to be real. In Social Security's case, the "crisis" myth is perpetuated by people who wish to cut and/or destroy social security under the guise of saving it. I wonder if that's what is going on here.
In my experience-- limited tho it may be-- the actaul "crisis" affecting the humanities is largely administrative rather than student interest driven. Simply put. a lot of Universities give lip service to how much they value the humanities but do not actually value them when compared with more lucrative STEM progrems, and so they tend to undermine and sabotage them. Within actual humanities departments there also tends to be the kind of eccentric battles of will and dysfunctions that academic satires are built on.
UPDATE: The original draft of this post made it seem like the Times used the term "crisis." They never actually used the term, but this article is of a piece with many articles published over the last couple of years that assert there is a crisis of confidence in the humanities at the undergraduate level, which is why i use the term. Thanks to reader Karl Miller for bringing it to my attention. The language has been clarified.