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The English Degree question

September 6, 2006

The English Degree question:

When questions about English departments come up (such as here), invariably questions about values, priorities and the like immediately gather. For example, Dean Dad started a little fire-storm when he lauded the U of Fl.’s decision to cut retiring positions and realign budgets to the sciences at the expense of the liberal arts. He sees this as strong steering or resources from the Univ’s point of view. To that, I can see his point.

Those who have responded, Dr. Crazy, Flavia, etc. voice the common concerns of

  • the value of Liberal Arts
  • the allocation of funds & the revenue various departments bring to a university/college
  • the future of graduates (undergrad and grad)

I will take these in order.

The value (academic terms) of a liberal arts influenced education has a long and well-fought history. I will only add that I am glad to have gotten one.

The value in economic terms of a liberal arts influenced education (read a non-liberal arts degree that included writing and lit requirements) is also a given. Critical thinking skills created by reading and writing (Lit, History, Language) add immeasurably to an education—and the inclusion of such required courses only speaks to that. The sprinkling of liberal arts is not in question.

The majoring in liberal arts, though, is in serious question. Getting a Masters or higher is reckless and foolhardy.

The allocation of funds. English departments generate a lot of revenue, for themselves and the institution in general. With local variances acknowledged, composition courses and intro-lit pump more than the department’s fair share into the general operating pool—especially when taught (as is the practice) by TAs or grad students. It does not, though, follow that liberal arts departments should see this as value where it is not.

Being a core requirement and generating a good amount of revenue is all well and good. But to say that those departments should then encourage large (read more than just a few) numbers of graduates ignores market forces, the good of the graduates or even the good of the departments.

Metaphor-mania time: the liberal arts are the sweets to the life diet. They treat, reward, and make life desirable, exciting and worth all of the effort. They are good and wonderful. However, they provide little nutrition.

[Side-stepping the mud-pie thrown in reaction to above statement]: the liberal arts are the vitamins to a healthy life diet. They provide the necessary nutrients for vigor and life. They are necessary and vital. However, they are by definition supplements. One cannot live by vitamins alone.

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  1. Teri permalink
    September 10, 2006 5:33 pm

    “they soak…” not “the soak.”

    (Maybe a few more English classes might have done me some good?)

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    September 12, 2006 2:53 am

    🙂 Supplying the world’s demand for over-educated Wal-Mart greeters…

    Actually, that was unfair. The local graduates seem to be stocking and checking out…

    That is not an exaggeration.

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