The Report of the Humanities Commission

The [Chronicle of Higher Education has a decent write-up][che] of the results of the [Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences][chss], a commission created by a bi-partisan team of lawmakers to write a report about the role that the humanities and the social sciences play in education in general and, it seems, in higher education in particular. The key takeaway, for me at least, is that the report did not follow the model of the [2005 report][] by the National Academies to set funding priorities or measurable goals. The consensus seemed to be that the report, set in the current budgetary and ideological climate, simply needed to say something like “hey, the humanities and the human sciences are important.” I think that lacks vision and passion.

My mother was always adamant that many people can only value you as much as you value yourself, and if that comes down to dollars, you better be able to specify dollars.

Now, it’s true that she was in a position to walk away if the dollar amounts didn’t match up. Many people in the humanities probably don’t feel like they have that option, but since we are talking about group dynamics here in a complex social arrangement, it’s not too far off, I imagine, to think that something like a vicious cycle of under-funding and less talented/prepared individuals working in the area. At some point, if you starve an occupation long enough, your assessment will line up with its capabilities — this may be what conservatives have in mind.

Some of the comments to the Chronicle post are kind of silly, or devolve into silly spats, but there are a few posters who make the argument, as the report seems to, that humanists need to make a better case for themselves to the public. Some of the other commenters regard this as an either/or proposition, but it’s not. I am reminded of Henry Glassie’s statement that “articles are for fellow scholars and books are for people.” (That isn’t really a quote so much as a paraphrase, but I wanted to honor the fact that it’s his idea.)

[2005 report]:

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