Justify Your Worth

The New York Times reports that the humanities are feeling the pinch of budget cutbacks at universities:

With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents

But it isn’t just the humanities. Anthropology is hurting as well.

These are uncertain days at Florida State University’s anthropology department.

University officials have told Glen Doran, chairman of the department, to not accept any new graduate students for the 2009-10 school year.

This has prompted rumors that the anthropology department – it has 120 undergraduate students, 35 active grad students and another 30 in various stages of finishing their degrees – may be on the chopping block when FSU is forced to make painful cuts following the upcoming legislative session.

I was sympathetic to this story, and even joined the Facebook group they set up to defend the department, but I was very concerned by this quote:

Anthropology plays a vital role in today’s geopolitical world, Ward said. The military recruited anthropologists to help it better understand and communicate with people in Afghanistan, she noted.

If we are going to have to start advertising HTS as a justification for Anthropology’s continued existence, maybe we should join the French and eliminate the discipline altogether.

5 thoughts on “Justify Your Worth

  1. A few years ago at a departmental party, I raised the idea that anthropology could be an attractive target for budget cuts because of the perception that anthropology was “outdated” or “useless.” A number of grad students and professors thought that I was being too pessimistic. I hope that they were right but these new developments at FSU appear to indicate that my predictions might have been correct. Hopefully, this does not start a trend.

    I checked the anthropology website at FSU to see how large their department is. They only have eight full time professors. Since most anthropologists do not make six figure incomes, I do not see what financial savings would be gained from eliminating such a (relatively) small department. You could probably get more mileage by cutting larger departments at FSU that tend to get small numbers of majors such as religion. Religions had 28 majors, 9 Master’s Students and 1 Doctoral Student complete degrees during the 2006/2007 term while anthropology had 33 majors, 11 master’s students and 4 doctoral students complete degrees in the same period and yet the Department of Religion at FSU has 18 full time faculty. That is ten more faculty than anthropology. From a pure numbers standpoint, the Department of Religion should be a better target (Sources: Data from http://www.nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/ and FSU’s Department of Religion Website)

    If anthropology at FSU is really going to be eliminated, then I suspect it is because anthropology is an easy target. FSU administrators have to make cuts to appease legislators and a general public who are angry about rising tuition costs and supposed “waste” in academic institutions. There are many people in the general public (and thus by extension in state legislatures) who do not know what anthropology is, who assume that anthropology is “useless” because it studies “primitive” cultures that will “inevitably” be wiped out by globalization or who assume anthropology is part of a “liberal” agenda pushing for a form of “diversity” that will destroy American culture (look at some of the response to anthropological critiques of HTS ). Because of this, anthropology is a less politically controversial target than other departments. If you are an administrator, you are unlikely to see major political protests if you eliminate anthropology since many people are already predisposed to have a negative view of it (or to not have any view about it at all. However, if you eliminate a department like Women’s Studies (a common target for criticism from legislators), you potentially face the wrath of well funded political organizations or interest groups*. This definitely puts anthropology in a very precarious position in any university which is looking to cut departments.

    *Note: I am not saying that I think that Women’s Studies should be eliminated. I am only pointing out that while there are routine pushes to eliminate women’s studies, there are well funded political organizations such NOW which would surely be available to fight such a development.

  2. Was the quote just taken out of context by the reporter, as one example of anthropological engagement out of many that she mentioned, or did she mention it as the most striking importance of anthropology to the state? Other than the list “Where have we worked – globally” on the facebook-site, as list of various employments and achievements of the FSU’s anthropologists would seem more important to me (hoping not all of them ended up working for the DoD, CIA or huge corporate firms).

  3. This news is sad, disturbing, and not surprising. Once I managed to get some time to finally post about trends in Canadian anthropology enrollments, as well as research funding, you will find similar patterns in Canada. Funding for the social sciences and humanities is being increasingly oriented toward business – a counterintuitive choice perhaps, given that it is the corporate private sector that has so royally f-d up the world economy in the most absurd ways. But there is nothing like more of the same to fix more of the same.

    HTS as an employment opportunity? Yes, but perhaps not for women, the majority of anthropology students. Check out the latest report on my blog, that just went up. If links appear on your blog, it is at:


    Best wishes.

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