Is There a #CrisisInTheHumanities?

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.26.02 AMWhat do we mean by #crisisinthehumanities?

Is it 50-75% instruction = contingent faculty? 

Is it ballooning administrative costs combined with shrinking instructional budgets? 

Is it defunding of public education by state legislatures? Louisiana, Wisconsin and Illinois have all been in the news recently for this.

Is it failure to adapt to 21st century realities on the part of those in the humanities? Read Jeff Selingo’s Washington Post article on why so many college students fail to gain job skills before graduation.  

Is is that too many PhDs are produced for too few jobs

For 20 years, I worked in humanities departments in higher ed. Now I work on 21st century realities.

In private conversations, I’ve talked a lot about the demise of the humanities. And in these terms: if you’re committed to the status quo, you’re clinging to a sinking ship.

The reality is that some (many!) humanities departments on a lot of campuses are in trouble. Pressure from administration to be “income generating” in the wake of state defunding confounds traditional humanities scholars who cannot conceive of what “income generating” means for them. In addition to that pressure, low enrollments threaten courses, programs, and teaching jobs. Students aren’t signing up for the status quo courses.   Preparing undergraduate students with “mini PhDs” in the humanities field is not enough–no matter how much it educates the whole person and teaches essential critical thinking and analytical skills.

The reality is that the very foundation of higher education has changed. It no longer prepares future academics.  Because it prepares such high numbers of students, the reality has become that higher education sends the vast majority of its graduates into the professional world.  We already know that we’re over-preparing academics–there’s a true crisis of disproportion in the world of too many PhDs for not enough jobs. This lopsided demand contributes to the adjunct crisis, wherein adjunct faculty are compared to the underpaid exploited labor force working in the fast food industry (adjunct walkout day is in the news today–see stories here and here). So the last thing we need to do is prepare more academics by training more undergraduates to pursue graduate studies in the humanities.  

These are huge intellectual problems that will probably take decades or generations to solve.  In the meantime, let’s do we have to do to keep the humanities afloat: namely, professional development training for undergrads enrolled in our humanities programs.  

You don’t have to throw away the traditional curriculum to do this.  You can weave professional development preparation into already existing curricula.  And you can do it piecemeal. 

For example, try weaving networking skills through a single course–see this post for details on how to do that.

Before agreeing to write a letter of recommendation, ask students to make the connections between your course and whatever it is they are applying to–that makes your job easier (you can cut-and-paste whatever they produce into your letter template–see this post for details).  This exercise provides students with important practice for cover letter writing in which they will have to connect their own skills & experiences to specific job qualifications (see this post on the importance of connecting the dots for employers).  

Mastery of  letters and numbers–the building blocks of any language–can provide students with important written & verbal communication skills for the workplace. Not the least of these is the ability to take a clear, simple, accurate phone message. So why not weave phone messages into the foreign language curriculum? At the end of each unit of study, practice taking accurate names and numbers, provide strategies to take control of the conversation and get the information you need, weave in unit vocabulary by “leaving messages” about apartments for rent, dinner reservations, a medical appointment, returning a clothing item…

In-class presentations can become practice for job interviews by applying a few simple standards: practice, prepare, don’t use any notes, but know what you are going to say inside-and-out as if it were the most intuitive thing in the world.  Work these criteria into your grading rubric and explain to students why and how it is practice for professional job interviews and enjoy the results…

Always be explicit with students about the career prep you are doing with them!  You don’t want to be the crazy professor who made students shake hands in class all the time or randomly ratcheted up presentation standards. You do want to be the professor who clearly and explicitly helped students prepare for the practical world of the workplace even as you delivered the traditional humanities curriculum.  

For more on this, look for:

This webinar on February 26, 2015 at 3:00 EST Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.16.15 AM

Register online.




My article in the March/April issue of  The Language Educator, “Creating a Learner Centered Classroom to Prepare Students for Life Beyond the Classroom,” details some strategies for weaving professional development training into humanities curricula.

I frequently travel to lead campus workshops that cover topics such as:

  • How Can You Connect Your Language Major to Your Career Aspirations?
  • How Are Your Language Experiences Represented on Your Résumé?
  • How Do You Choose One Word to Describe Your Language Level on Your Résumé?
  • How Do You Illustrate Your Language Level on Your Résumé?
  • Can You Explain Everything on Your Résumé Clearly and Concisely?
  • The Elevator Pitch: One Sure Way to Make a Good First Impression
  • Can You Highlight Your Language Studies at Networking Events and in Interviews?
  • Managing Your Digital Identity for the 21st Century Workplace
  • Be Ready for An Elegant Close  

Upcoming campus workshops include:

March 19th-21st: St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota  

April 1st: Metropolitan State University of Denver

April 4th: Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island

April 16th: Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois for a presentation to all language students, “How can studying a language help you get the job you want when you graduate?”  

Let me know if we might cross paths in any of those locations!

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear spent 20 years in higher ed–teaching in humanities departments. She is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
This entry was posted in Careers for Humanities Majors, darcy lear, Professors Best Kept Secrets. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Is There a #CrisisInTheHumanities?

  1. Pingback: Innovation in Higher Ed: It Might Be Happening NOW! | darcylear

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