Posts from "March, 2011"

Engineer’s Career is Enhanced by Humanities Skills

Mark Bauerlein reprinted in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this response to his recent contribution to the Jobs vs. Gates debate in the NYT :

“Professor Bauerlein:

“Having retired after 36 years as an engineer/physicist, I can look
back and honestly say that the liberal-arts courses I took amplified
my effectiveness as an engineer.  They could be described as what the
military would call ‘force multipliers,’ always present in my best
work and often most responsible for my promotions along the way.

“My promotions were more related to my ability to write and give good
presentations than to the technical ingenuity of my work.  Often,
some very ingenious output resulted in a company patent but just
didn’t create any excitement, while on other occasions I managed to
sell some rather pedestrian work to roars of approval.

“Some studies of philosophy helped me to understand what it means to
know something and to see logical holes in an argument.  My exposure
to psychology and sociology made me more sensitive to ingrained
paradigms that I could not change and so needed to navigate, like so
many hidden reefs.

“I think my finest university teacher was a historian named Milton
Halliday.  He was awakening a classroom of physical science and
engineering majors to the history of western philosophy.  That
course, and the inspiration of Halliday, motivated in me a lifetime
of study outside of my career.”

These are just the kind of testimonials that the humanities need in discussions of funding, general education requirements, curricular changes, and career readiness.  From what I’ve seen and heard, humanities professors haven’t made the case.  Their defenses of the humanities can’t overcome the simple dollar calculations.

The dean’s option is irresistible: Why spend $80,000 on one associate professor of English at a 2-2 load when I can pay two adjuncts $48,000 to teach 16 (!) courses?

English professors struggle to answer that question in an effective, persuasive way.  If we had more engineers and scientists putting administrators on the spot, the adjunct trend would, at the least, slow down.  Right now, the silence of people whose research brings in big federal dollars isn’t benign or neutral.  It’s an endorsement of the steady marginalization of the humanities on campus.

I believe most scientists and engineers believe in the essential role of the humanities in higher education, but they don’t know how much they have declined in prestige and persuasion.  It would be all to the good if more cross-the-quad communication took place.

WSJ: MBAs Lack Effective Communication Skills

Evidence is growing, says the Wall Street Journal, that MBA students lack effective communication skills. The article cites a number of businesses that are unhappy with the paltry writing abilities of recent graduates. What it does not say is that learning how to write often comes from reading great literature: it’s impossible to know what good writing looks like if your reading is limited to college textbooks and commercial schlock. This article confirms what many said in the NYT debate: that the humanities are more crucial than ever to succeeding in the modern marketplace. Read here:

Gates, Jobs and the Liberal Arts

The New York Times invited experts to debate the differences between Bill Gates’s and Steve Jobs’s approach to education. Gates prefers investing in fields that lead to employment, Jobs wants to focus on creativity and innovation, which depend on a deep familiarity with the liberal arts. Nearly all of the participants, even those on the side of science and technology, argue that liberal arts skills (writing, critical thinking, communication, socio-historical awareness) are crucial, especially for long-term career success. Check out the debate here:

Has the Bubble Burst on Law School?

A lot of humanities students–especially students of philosophy and English–end up going to law school. This is a great choice for many students; for others it is a default decision based on the vague idea that they will make a lot of money and that life will take care of itself. When a family member or neighbor asks you: “Why are you studying the humanities?” it is very easy to respond “I’m going to law school” in order to avoid the quizzical stares and the ambiguity of pursuing some other–and perhaps even more interesting–career path. If law school is on your radar screen, and for the wrong reasons, it may be useful to consider other options, especially now that the law school bubble may have burst. Read more here: For ideas on how to bridge the gap between a humanities degree and other exciting career choices, check this post on Sheila Curran’s book Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads:

Reader’s Response to William D. Cohan NYT Piece on the Questionable Value of College Degrees

From Katherine in PA

March 17th, 2011
11:53 am
Twenty-five years ago, the huge financial institution where I worked in NYC wanted to find out if the premium it paid to hire MBAs was worth it. Did they really perform better? Was it worth the cost? Our PhD research team decided to find out. They carefully identified and studied the top performers who were five years into their careers across our far-flung operations. The results? MBAs did NO better than students with only a bachelor’s degree. Grade point average made NO difference. Education institution made NO difference (the kids from CCNY did just as well as the ones from Harvard). Prior work experience made NO difference. In our study the ONLY predictor of success was an undergraduate liberal arts degree. I think of that whenever I hear about a middle-class kid who wants to go into huge debt to finance an Ivy League education. Yes, the contacts are fabulous. But if you have a fire in your belly, it make no difference where you go to school. Amen.

It would be interesting to see an updated version of this study to see if the results are similar.

Scientists Are Rediscovering What Humanists Have Always Known

David Brooks makes the argument that the Enlightenment view of human nature has taken scientists and government policymakers down a number of blind alleys by focusing on human rationality and ignoring or downgrading the role of moral sentiments in animating human behavior. He is describing, in fact, what humanists and professors of great literature have always known: that by bracketing out the “unmeasurable” elements of human thought and behavior science misses, or even willfully ignores, the most interesting and fundamental dimensions of humanity. This moral “blindness” of rationalism is, in fact, the stuff of tragedy.