Mark Edmundson (professor of English, University of Virginia) pushes back against those touting the “marketable skills” of Humanities disciplines. Reaching back to Plato, Edmundson reminds us that the Humanities are ultimately about investigating the most meaningful and virtuous ways to conduct one’s life. He’s afraid that too much talk of Humanities and careers will hollow out our core values.
Agreed: Humanities professors should not see themselves or their disciplines as “job training.” And student “success” should not be measured only in financial terms. At the same time, 90% of college students consider university study as career preparation. Inevitably we all must confront students who naturally want some reassurance that their time and money will not be wasted in unemployment. Since there is plenty of market evidence that Humanities students are highly valued, why not share this information? Why not even advertise it so that students who have chosen the Humanities (probably for the virtues Edmundson points to) can cultivate the skill sets employers are seeking while learning how to live life virtuously? We are not engaged in a zero-sum game; there is no sacrifice of intellectual principle or idealism when we point students to potential career pathways. Indeed, the more we can do this the healthier our disciplines will be over the long term.