(December 16, 2013)
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Humanities studies are much needed. A response to Harvey E. Whitney, Jr.'s The Two Fiefdoms Of Higher Education
To the Editor:
In his article "Two Fiefdoms of Higher Education," Harvey Whitney, Jr. voices an interesting combination of opinions. He feels that his contribution in the classroom as an adjunct professor is undervalued, therefore resulting in inadequate compensation to him for it. I have no doubt that this is true. He also decries the pervasive general lowering of academic standards that allows a good number of undeserving students to pass through the system and obtain degrees. Again, I am quite certain that he is on target with this assessment. But then, he seems to join the chorus of voices calling for the humanities departments to be swept out of the university and relegated to the trash heap as outmoded, irrelevant relics that have "outlived their usefulness." I find this position troubling, not just because it's foolish and poorly argued, but because I sympathize with him on his other two points. It might provide some helpful insight if Mr. Whitney would try to see the campaign to rid universities of humanities studies, his own meager paycheck, and the systemic dilution of academic standards as all three symptomatic of the greater disease afflicting our university system. I refer to the commodification of America's higher education and the resulting transformation of our institutes of higher learning into profit-oriented corporate-styled entities. If he is making Walmart level wages for his work in the classroom, it is because the administrators of his schools have adopted the Walmart business plan; good for the bottom line, but unfriendly to employees. If it seems that some diplomas are being handed out without any evidence that the student has learned anything or put forth any effort, it's because it has been determined that the withholding of diplomas interferes with the robust revenue stream provided by tuition. Try to think of it as a simple business transaction. And when university administrations try to push out their philosophy, literature, and history studies for having "outlived their usefulness," it is because the university's corporate underwriters have been unable to discover a means of drawing patents from or otherwise monetizing the research that takes place in these departments, and the space they take up is needed for departments that provide a better return.
I believe that we may still have much to learn from predecessors like Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell, and T.S. Eliot. So, please Mr. Whitney, continue to agitate for better wages for yourself and your fellow adjunct professors, fight for the academic integrity you believe belongs in our universities, but please don't lend your support to the profiteers who would deprive future students of the option to pursue the less lucrative studies.
Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado, USA - December 5, 2013
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