You’re getting the universities you want

The Globe and Mail (Canada) has a bunch of articles looking at universities and the place of the humanities. One is by Clifford Orwin of the University of Toronto titled, You’re getting the universities you want – and deserve. He argues that societal pressures on public universities don’t give us much wiggle room. Society wants cheap accessible diplomas and research. That’s what they get.

On the humanities he argues that for programs that teach students to think critically.

Ah, the humanities. Don’t we need them, too? Don’t they make good human beings better, and bad ones less bad? …

But while the humanities won’t redeem twisted people, they can do much for normal ones. Properly taught, they are vital to the health not only of the university but of society. Of the various disciplines they alone challenge students to rise above the reigning (and deadening) societal obsession with utility. They alone pose the question of what it means to be human, while introducing students to the greatest minds of the past to help them in addressing it.

The second article is When a university degree just isn’t enough that looks at how large class sizes is affecting the liberal arts degrees including the humanities. How can students learn critical thinking when in classes with 100 students. (See the Class Sizes by University infographic.)

The BA, of course, has never been all about employability, but was praised for its inherent value in broadening and challenging young minds. But even that goal has been impacted by large and impersonal lecture-style classes, with little access to busy professors.

The last article of interest is In the digital age, the much-maligned, liberal-arts degree still has deep value which argues for liberal-arts learning in the digital age.

And yet the much-maligned, classical liberal-arts degree still has deep value. In the digital age, students need to spend more time, not less, learning to read, write and analyze. The ability to mount a persuasive argument and communicate well are keys to success in so many fields, including business, engineering and information technology. Six of the nine sitting Supreme Court judges have bachelor of arts degrees – and so does the man who runs one of Canada’s largest pension funds, Michael Sabia.

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