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Nearly everyone seems to believe the humanities are in crisis. Hardly a week has gone by since I began research for this book late in 2009 without an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Inside Higher Ed, or Washington Post about the declining prestige of the humanities, the defunding of its programs, and the poor employment prospects of its students. The supposed causes of the crisis are by now familiar. Students and their parents have increasingly come to see a college or university education as vocational training. They want maximum value for the high cost of higher education, and that value is increasingly measured in utilitarian terms. Courses in the humanities seem of little practical use at best, and, at worst, like a waste of time. The intangible value of an education in history, philosophy, literature, and the fine arts is of decreasing interest to families worried about their children’s employment prospects. Study in the humanities disciplines seems backward looking and without any utility in an age of exploding technology. For this reason students are flocking to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines because, unlike the humanities, they are forward looking. Add to all of this the pressures of a sustained economic recession and the increasing corporatization of higher education, where the bottom-line mentality of boards of trustees dominated by executives from the business community tends to dominate budget priorities, and you have something like a constellation of forces that, worse than a crisis, seem to portend the very end of the humanities.

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© 2014 Paul Jay

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Jay, P. (2014). The Humanities Crisis Then and Now. In: The Humanities “Crisis” and the Future of Literary Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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