Why I Love the Life of the Mind and Practical Workplace Skills Equally

20131202_134432I love the humanities, the life of the mind, and learning for the sake of learning & personal growth.

I also love all the real-world practical applications of my learning: efficiency, clear & concise messages, check lists that with each item crossed out draw me closer to a tangible goal.

And now–20+ years into my career–it is clear to me that those two things (the life of the mind and practical, real-world skills) are not mutually exclusive.

The current climate in higher education mandates that we embrace both worlds.  Why?

Staffing: 68% of teaching faculty are contingent (non-tenure track) and most of those are adjuncts–contract laborers with no job security, no benefits.  In the meantime, “student services” personnel has ballooned–a 28% increase in admin positions  2000-2012. At the very least, this should reflect a focus on services such as career development and workplace preparation.  The New York Times just had a piece about these trends and the University of Illinois Chicago faculty are on strike as I write this.

Humanities enrollments: down.  Some use Nate Silver’s almost-always-accurate number crunching to argue that enrollments are not down.  But even if they are correct, those who argue enrollments aren’t down fail to acknowledge that all those humanities majors have to do something when they graduate and that most humanities programs do nothing to ease that transition. Even a different approach to Nate Silver’s numbers-driven analysis misses what I consider to be the key point. You can’t just tell young people that studying the humanities while help careers and produce success and then shame them for not listening. Shame on us for telling them to study the humanities, then saying “good luck with that transition from college to career.” We have to build that bridge for them and help them cross it.

Tuition: up. Those paying (students & their parents) want to know there will be a job on the other side of that degree.

Defunding:  It was ten years ago that I first heard Paul Magelli of the Kauffman Foundation say that state university systems are going from “state funded” to “state supported” to “state located.” That change is happening. States are not allocating the funding that they used to.  (I like the historical context for this provided by Clay Shirky).

Corporatization:  How do universities fund themselves when states walk away?  They have to adapt and one way is private funding from donors as well as income-generating models. This means the departments, programs, and centers have to actually make money. That idea doesn’t sit well with many in the humanities. But students are preparing for careers in a corporatized, capitalist job markets so we have to find ways to align those two.

All these things are going on to different degrees and with a million different interpretations (which is good, which is bad, which is unavoidable, what to do about any of it).

Here’s what I want to do:

1) work with humanities faculty to thread professional preparation throughout existing curricula

2) work with humanities students to explicitly apply their studies to job search documents (resume, cover letter, personal statement, professional school essay questions) and interview preparation.


2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their humanities studies so they stand out in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one support in preparing for your job search or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
 
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