Axing French, Italian, classics, theater …

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.

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Comments

  1. The one Classics major I knew went on to have a successful career as a lawyer and she always said that her undergraduate studies was excellent preparation for law school. Maybe the way to save the discipline would be to offer a 6 year combo degree with the university’s law school that students could apply to as high school seniors the way some schools offer a 6 yr. pre-med/M.D. program.

  2. I finance is a problem ,cutting on humanities is unarguable to give way to practical courses that can be applied as a skill for work.

  3. But not every branch of every state college/university has to offer the same courses/majors. Want to major in French? You might have to move.

  4. University systems like SUNY should be responsive to the needs of its students… if there is a lack of students in a discipline like French at multiple schools in the system, they should consolidate and offer the major at only one school.
    They should still, though, offer introductory level classes though to provide a solid liberal arts education.
    I’d also go so far to say the principle should hold true for all majors including the sciences and applied fields.

  5. wahoofive says:

    What everyone needs to study is Chinese, because that’s who’s going to run the world after we dumb down our education to the point that we don’t have any graduates who can read and write.

  6. I went through college as an engineering major and I sneered at soft stuff like the humanities. Now that I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to remedy my fundamental ignorance of history and philosophy, I think differently.

    ALL Americans should be taught at least a good smattering of the humanities. We used to do this. My father learned the basics of Greek and Latin and classical history in high school. I did not.

    If you can’t appreciate and apply the lessons of, say, the Peloponnesian war to modern-day wars, then you’ve lost something important. If you haven’t read Aeschylus, you’ve lost something really important.

    There simply wasn’t time to cram any humanities into a four-year engineering degree. I regret not stretching it to five years.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    ALL Americans should be taught at least a good smattering of the humanities. We used to do this. My father learned the basics of Greek and Latin and classical history in high school. I did not.
    :
    There simply wasn’t time to cram any humanities into a four-year engineering degree. I regret not stretching it to five years.

    I am a big believer in studying history, literature and foreign languages, mostly because I believe that the world is fascinating and I like to learn about fascinating things. But we have a number of inter-related issues here:

    (1) The question being posed (although it hasn’t quite been phrased that way) is, “Should *ALL* colleges offer *DEGREE PROGRAMS* in French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater?” SUNY Albany is killing these degree programs. Other SUNY campuses are not. And it isn’t clear that you can’t *learn* the French language at SUNY Albany going forward. They might be keeping the language classes, just axing the rest of the program required to get a degree.

    I’d suggest that it should be obvious that, “No, *ALL* colleges do not need to offer degrees in these subjects.” I want some colleges to do so, but clearly we do not need thousands of colleges to offer degrees in these subjects.

    (2) Should our educational system deliver a liberal arts education in college? Or should it be earlier? Your father clearly learned this in high school. So, for what it is worth, did I. If we (as a country/society) have dropped this education from high school, maybe the fix is to *PUT IT BACK* in high school rather than extend the college experience.

    (3) Will these things be learned in college? The programs SUNY Albany is dropping are being dropped mostly because of a lack of student interest. Keeping the programs around when very few students are getting these degrees (which implies that very few students are *TAKING* the upper division classes) isn’t a solution to the problem of “students are unfamiliar with the content of a humanities education.”

    I’m not actually bothered by a college shutting down some underused degree programs per-se. I am bothered by the general lack of intellectual curiosity of most students (and most people in general) about history, literature, etc. But I also realize that this just isn’t new. There is no crisis here, just a realization by SUNY Albany that they don’t have the money to continue to fund all the programs they historically have funded. And they are cutting the courses that the students aren’t taking.

    -Mark Roulo