Crisis of confidence, redux.

If you’re a fan of what looks like it may well be innumeracy*, the latest installment from The Times in “crisis in the humanities” concern trolling is pretty darned good.

In all fairness, I’ll grant a couple of the author’s premises: many people, including leading humanists, really do feel** like there’s a crisis in the humanities. And there does seem to be a crisis in the humanities at Stanford. Heck, I’ll go one further: in time, that crisis well might become a self-fulfilling prophecy for universities around the United States.

But the numbers, linked here***, suggest that for the moment the crisis largely remains one of confidence. So maybe The Times should write an article about how humanists are neurotic and see doom and gloom wherever they look. The author can interview me!

Really, though, I’d read an article about who’ll benefit from an actual crisis in the humanities and whether those interests are implicated in drumming up this fake crisis.

* Without footnotes or links at The Times, I can’t know if the author is actually innumerate, just confused, or has access to numbers I’ve never seen (and suspect don’t exist).

** Because they read The Times? Because they listen to the Secretary of Education natter on and on and on about STEM? Because their funding is being cut? Who knows?

*** Nobody clicks links these days (because of the crisis in humanities blogging), so here’s the relevant information: Table 289 in The National Center for Education Statistics’s “Digest of Education Statistics” shows degrees granted by field of study for selected years between 1970 and 2010. That table reveals that in 1970-1971, 17.1% of students who received BAs in the United States majored in a humanities discipline. Three decades later, in the midst of the crisis in the humanities we hear so much about, that number had plummeted to 17%.

It’s worth adding that the number of students receiving MAs and PhDs in humanities disciplines has contracted (from 14.6% to 7.9% for MAs and from 6.8% to 4.9% for PhDs).

13 thoughts on “Crisis of confidence, redux.

  1. Steve Kantrowitz

    You’re surely right about the data on majors, Ari. But in my department (and across the Humanities and Social Sciences here) we’ve experienced a significant drop in total enrollments over the last two years. Fewer non-majors are taking our courses, and we have had to scramble to save our TA appointments.

  2. Ari Kelman Post author

    That’s interesting (and by “interesting” I mean “crappy”), Steve. I don’t know if there are numbers for humanities course enrollments nationwide, so I can’t say whether what you’re experiencing is a local or national phenomenon. I can tell you that we’re hemorrhaging majors here at the moment, but that our enrollments are mostly holding steady. It also may be true that the crisis has arrived, as you seem to be experiencing, in the last two years. I say that because the numbers I link above only go through 2010.

  3. Jeremy Pool

    The article neglects to mention that when they say “students” they mean majors rather than enrollments. If 45% of faculty were in the humanities but only 15% of student enrollments, then yes, Stanford would be profoundly mismanaged. It would have almost completely abandoned the Liberal Arts and should maybe reopen as a polytech. Actual course enrollments and faculty numbers, however, are probably a lot closer to parity, but why bother with such trivialities when there’s a crisis to manufacture and MOOCs to moot.

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  6. Dr. V. Pasupathi

    As somebody poised to be terminated for enrollment declines, I can offer one version of who benefits. My department has hired one new person after me and a colleague were hired in 2006. So we had effectively 3 junior/untenured scholars as of 2007. The two of us hired in 2006 will likely be denied tenure (though they have extended our contracts briefly, after sending us termination letters and negative tenure decisions based on enrollments) in 2014 or 2015. The additional untenured member will be denied by 2015 or 2016. That’s three lines in English that can be reallocated to Biology and other STEM fields. I expect our three will be used to make 1 or 2 hires in Bio or Engineering. My university has just started a Medical School and a School of Engineering. We have already lost about 35% of our department’s faculty via retirements. At least 2 more people will declare retirement plans in the next 5 years, which will mean at least 5 lines from English to transfer into other “growth” areas.

    Who benefits? My university’s administration and their plans for new programs in the sciences.

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  9. glenntwo

    I am going to spread this 17.1% to 17.0 percent statistic as widely as I can. But do you have any inkling of where to get statistics since 2010? Because I know that question is going to arise.

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