American Council of Learned Societies Annual Meeting: Humanities and Higher Education

The annual meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies, a national group that represents scholarly associations in the Humanities, ended on Saturday in Washington, D.C. Many talks focused on the value of the humanities to American innovation and to democratic citizenship. David Marshall, dean of humanities and fine arts at the University of California at Santa Barbara, focused on “the erosion of the egalitarian ideal of public liberal-arts education,” as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Pretty soon you can imagine the TA call center in India where you call up to talk about your history paper or exam,” he said. “Students are coming in with more skepticism than ever about the value of a humanities major.”

…”That notion of the public good that we’ve all lived in, going back to the 18th century, is really in peril,” Mr. Marshall concluded.

Some talks also focused on the many threats to a liberal-arts education at home even as such an education has become an important export abroad. Thomas Bender, university professor of the humanities at NYU, commented on the paradox of how American universities are admired and envied worldwide “but doubted by Americans at the very time these things are generally praised.” John Sexton, president of New York University, emphasized the need for higher education to reassess its values by putting these values to work in other cultures. Such a translation allows you “to decide which ideas are most important to you and which are better than yours, something that Americans don’t frequently consider.” Read more in the Chronicle.

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