Despite attending a modern research university, humanities students at the UR suffer relatively little for their choice of majors. Ribbing from their colleagues in the sciences, UR students interested in the humanities have a reasonable variety of programs from which to choose.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that as research universities go, this is far more the exception than the rule. Though the push to make sure American college graduates are competitive in the international markets of the hallowed science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries is nothing new, only in the last two decades or so has government policy and public opinion turned so sharply against humanistic education. Basic reading and writing skills are now considered the end-goal of teaching, and the most viable measures of student progress, rather than a byproduct of good material combined with equal instruction.
Secondary education is viewed by different segments of the population as preparation for the job market, preparation for higher education or, for some, a necessary but barely tolerable institution. While it is reasonable to demand that education provide benefits to its students — benefits that then expand across those students’ social contexts during their lifetimes — it is ridiculous to expect those benefits to be purely tangible, and it is in providing intangible benefits where the humanities excel.
First, our human artistic endeavors are partly products of our individual psychologies, but it can be refined and improved by a good instructor. The aesthetic experience is something modern humans have in common with their ancient ancestors.
Secondly, a democracy requires an informed citizenry to function properly. Part of the value of education is the creation and solidification of a common national political culture and the fostering of familiarity with each nation’s governmental and political processes. Both are particularly important in a government system that relies to a high degree upon citizen participation.
Lastly, if the sciences represent the development of the mind, the humanities, as the name implies, exemplify the development of the human soul. Proper teaching of the humanities goes beyond learning the best way to write a sentence or how to draw a comparison between historical figures. It seeks to make students not only do, but question why they do, and to find personal meaning in their interaction with their objects of analysis. The scientific analogues are, more than anything, humanistic traits shoehorned into a vastly different discipline.