4/27/09

Economy and Humanities

In the last days of April, the leadership of The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the university at which I serve as a campus minister, decided to discontinue our Philosophy major in an attempt to save money in response to state-wide budget cuts in higher education. Current majors will be allowed to finish their degrees, but no new majors will be accepted into the program and so the number of classes will be reduced each semester.

C. John Sommervile, in his remarkable book, The Decline of the Secular University, laments that Universities, having lost their original purposes precisely owing to their secularization, are becoming little more than "credential factories" - no longer dedicated to seeking knowledge and truth for the good of the human person and community, but rather selling training and credentials for the career advancement of aspiring professionals (here is my more extended discussion of Sommerville's book).

The ULL decision seems to bear this out since Philosophy is seen as a more expendable field than say Business or Accounting: both of which can teach us how to best make and keep money, but not what we ought to use money for in the first place. They do not address the relationship between "the economy" and "The Good." They will not ask the probing questions about what is truly good for human individuals and communities, nor explore how blind allegiance to "the economy" can create a spiritual wasteland of empty consumerism and perpetually dissatisfied people looking for "the next thing". It strikes me as a bitter irony that the modern university, which grew out of the Ancient schools of Philosophy and the Medieval schools of Theology, cuts off its very root in the quest for economic survival. These are precisely the times when good philosophy and theology is so critical to our culture.

But the Humanities have managed to stick around this long and there is good reason to have hope for the future. After all, students will, even in the face of endless distraction by the electronic trivialities of postmodern life, continue to ask the "big questions" about Truth, Beauty, Meaning, and the Good. The impulse to ask is too deeply etched in our souls; as the Book of Ecclesiastes says: "God has put eternity on the hearts of men." In that spirit of hope, enjoy this fictional and satirical report examining the survival of Humanities education from 2009-2020, following the economic downturn.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

that is Eccl. 3:11, I believe...

9:05 AM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger John T. Meche III said...

There is an old saying. "The philosophy of today is the science of tomorrow." It would be best for our universities to understand that when thinking of cutting the philosophy degree...

10:15 AM, April 29, 2009  
Anonymous Lucian said...

Hey, Daniel,

it's good to know you're safe and sound and out of the lion den, bro!

:-)

OK, fun aside, I'm gonna post here my response to Your question back at Fr. Stephen's blog:

You say that the same view is shared by other mainline Protestant Churches: well, ok. Fine, then. But here's an article written by a Lutheran guy after attending quite a few of our Church services. (Lutherans are mainline, right?).

8:48 AM, April 30, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I've talked to several students who worry (even those with no stake in the philosophy department) that this decision by the board of regents is a step toward essentially reducing ULL to a Technical College. Happily, they hope prevent that in any way that they may.

8:28 PM, May 01, 2009  

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