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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: In support of humanities, don’t give up on the study of ourselves

An article in the Sept. 29 issue of The Miami Student referred to “heartbreaking” news that Miami University is considering the elimination of majors in the humanities. On one level — the level of fiscal priorities — this might seem understandable. However, as the article mentions, one of the contributing factors to current fiscal problems is the position of the Ohio state government. The question is whether the state is doing enough to support educational institutions in need of assistance.

The article also reports that Provost Elizabeth Mullenix said, "There's nothing that Miami faculty did wrong. This is a national trend in students, and a shift in student demand." This is obviously true, but society seems unwilling to take the bull by the horns and dive deeper into the cause of this. 

One might question whether the nation's secondary schools have paid enough attention to humanities education, so that students may understand that what makes us human (thus “humanities”) is a vital part of a complete education. 

Concerning “student demand,” we should not design a drastic new course of studies based on the limited perceptions of young students who lack the backdrop of history and end up demanding quick-fix decisions about education. The many decades of adult experience among the faculty should be given priority in how best to prepare students to be open-minded.

With all due respect and admiration that a “Humanities Futures” initiative has been created at the university, one must seriously question whether such an attempt to weave the humanities into other categories of instruction can provide a suitable result. 

One might easily imagine that trying to get faculty members of differing views to find agreement could simply force watered-down versions of the low-enrollment courses now under scrutiny.

Let's consider that some of the courses under scrutiny involve studies dealing with nations and regions important to international relations and the world economy: France, Germany, Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Our students should shun the temptation to detach themselves from the world at large, merely to ensure that they find "a clear pathway to a career." The purpose of liberal arts and humanities training is to open the mind to many career possibilities.

Another university major under scrutiny is American Studies. How is it possible to weaken or eliminate such a program? It is already bad enough that 50 years ago this country's high schools, according to Richard Dreyfuss, decided to roll over the study of civics into social studies. If students cannot be taught in depth about their own culture and form of government, how can we expect to produce civic leaders who are able to confront the complex issues facing our society?

Today's student demands may cause faculties to rethink liberal education in the 21st century. However, students and faculty alike must be advised not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. 

The humanities must not be casually dismissed. They embody centuries of knowledge about the human race, to which we all belong.

Jerome Stanley is a retired Miami University professor. He taught in the College of Creative Arts Department of Music from 1969 until 2004. He holds a Ph.D. from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. His undergraduate years in the College of Liberal Arts at Washington University in St. Louis shaped his life-long understanding that the humanities belong at the center of higher education.

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