A defense of the humanities in these budget-cutting times

University budgets are getting cut left and right.  There’s a debate about this going on at my university right now.  I hear conversations about the lack of funding, the economic crisis, and the need to cut programs.  I also hear conversations where words like “productivity” and “performance” and “economic viability” are being thrown around a lot.  Sure, I understand the fact that we are facing some pretty bad economic times.  And I understand the need to rethink how we are financing the university.  Completely understand.  But, at the same time, when I hear people talking about cutting programs and reshaping the university based primarily upon economic performance…well, that’s when it’s really time to pay attention to what this all means.  If the only ones who survive university budget cuts are those who can demonstrate that they are “making money” for the university, I don’t think that bodes well for the university system as we know it.

Ya, as if that’s something we didn’t already know.

In the spirit of not letting to university go down that road (any more than it already has), please read through this 2010 essay about the importance and value of the humanities: A Faustian bargain, by Gregory A. Petsko.


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

4 thoughts on “A defense of the humanities in these budget-cutting times

  1. At my University, the humanities are extremely profitable for the University. We humanities professors teach large numbers of students, and we are cheap relative to our colleagues in other schools — we don’t require expensive labs, for instance, or sound-proof cubicles for our students to practice in.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Dmitri. Regardless of whether or not humanities programs are profitable, I still don’t really like the idea of basing our assessments of *any* university upon a monetary cost/benefit metric. Obviously, we have to account for the basic economics and financial questions, but I just don’t think that universities should be shaped solely based upon which programs generate the most money. I think the linked essay above illustrates quite well why this is a problem.

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