Thursday, January 31, 2013

in which I cannot resist weighing in

Three idle thoughts, in response to the latest gubernatorial pronouncement about how universities are doing everything wrong:

1) If I had to pick a graduate of Misnomer U to hire for a job of an unspecified nature, and if I had to do this without knowing anything at all about the prospective candidates except their majors, my first pick would be ... Women's Studies. For real. It's not a popular major; the few students it does attract tend to be much brighter and more dedicated than average; and almost all of them have served an internship with Grande Dame Colleague, who teaches them all kinds of useful skills, like grant writing and archival research and conducting interviews and transcribing oral histories, as well as general responsibility and professionalism. I don't mean to suggest that this is true of all gender studies programs everywhere, but in general, it's a grave mistake to assume that you can tell from the name of a program whether it teaches students marketable skills.

2) Last time I looked, math WAS a liberal art. (OK, it's possible that the last time I looked might have been sometime in the fifteenth century, but whatever.) Now, I think all the stuff they do over in the math and science department is pretty darn awesome. But much of it is not inherently any more practical than the things we do in humanities. (Nor should it be, since the university is supposed to be a space where knowledge is valued for its own sake, and where people have the freedom to study things because they're cool and interesting.)

3) People have been coming to universities to study philosophy for a lot longer than they've been coming to study business or engineering. It takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to cast yourself as a defender of traditional institutions and social values AND take potshots at the very programs and ideals which are, in fact, integral to the traditional mission of a university. (But then, one of the things I find puzzling about conservatives is that they don't actually seem to be interested in conserving things, most of the time.)

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