Fighting for the Humanities

In a recent piece entitled “Fighting for the Humanities: Who will bankroll poetry?” published in Academe, Professor and President of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) Cary Nelson calls for “a humanities offensive.” Nelson’s substantial and wide-ranging piece covers, among among other things, the significant differences in public perceptions of the sciences and the humanities, recent attacks on tenure (including those in Louisiana), the rise in the numbers of contingent faculty, the overall failure of the humanities to communicate with the public, and the ascendance of the accountability and assessment movement in education. Nelson urges those in the humanities “to embark on an educational project: assert what we believe and explain it.” He calls for the initiation of “a multidisciplinary conversation about the mission of the university,” and emphasizes that preserving the humanities is the major force behind the larger project of saving higher education:

We in higher education have a mission to preserve and improve the institutions we have helped to build. They are threatened. We are called to a cause and have cause to call others to an accounting. The curse of living in interesting times has always had its compensations. At least we do not have to ask what work there is to do.

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