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The Last Professors

9th September 2010


 Frank Donoghue, author of Fordham’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities , has an article in the September 5, 2010 issue of The Chronicle Review called “Can the Humanities Survive the 21st Century?”  The answer may surprise you.

In his provocative book, Donoghue argues that the rise of the corporate university culture is leading to the demise of the tenured university professor. In this article, he elaborates his argument against for-profit schools and corporate sponsorships, stating that it is their rise that is also contributing to the alarming decline of the study of the humanities in higher education. It is not the university’s decline he argues here, saying, “In fact, the humanities and the university are not the same. Since the 1970s, all disciplines in the humanities have suffered from budgetary shortfalls and the absence of a job market.”

With drastic changes in curriculum fueled by the introduction of academic majors and electives, students are choosing not to study humanities. College is becoming more and more compulsory, but also more expensive, leading to a surge in community colleges and profession-oriented for-profit schools.

The problem is not just at for-profit schools, however–large state universities no longer get much funding from the state, so they are forced to turn to corporations for funding, while most private schools are reliant on donations from wealthy alumni (who typically don’t fund humanities). Says Donoghue, “Corporations don’t earmark donations for the humanities because our research culture is both self-contained and absurd.”

So what will  happen to the humanities as we know them today? Donoghue concludes, “The humanities will have a home somewhere in 2110, but it won’t be in universities. We need at least to entertain the possibility that the humanities don’t need academic institutions to survive, but actually do quite well on their own.”

What do you think? Are the humanities in danger of disappearing from higher education altogether? Leave your thoughts in the comments!