Do Colleges Need French Departments? On the New York Times’ Room for Debate, professors discuss the State University of New York at Albany’s decision to eliminate degree programs in French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater. The university president blamed budget cuts and said the programs attracted few students.
Should these humanities programs be saved at public universities that are hard pressed to meet the needs of all sorts of students? Are they luxuries that are “nice to have” but not what taxpayers need to support? What’s lost, if anything, if they are eliminated?
Not everyone needs French, writes linguist John McWhorter, a former French major. As long as some colleges and universities offer humanities degrees, others can focus on career training. Some students should be able to choose vocational tracks, he writes.
The very notion in America of four years of a post-high school liberal arts education as a default experience for people between 18 and 21 is a post-World War II novelty. It is unclear that it has created a populace significantly better informed or intellectually curious.
Most of the respondents argue that the humanities produce culturally aware, clear-thinking, flexible learners and thoughtful citizens who can adapt to a changing world.