A couple of my friends pointed out “Making College Relevant” in the New York Times with dismay. Via Twitter, I had a quick back and forth with one of them:

Her: this article makes me want to cry! Are universities becoming technical schools? how can you cut Philosophy as a major? http://tiny.cc/ZZvmT

Me: Do we really need 1000 universities in the US training people in philosophy? Diversity in university styles is good!

Her: sure! cutting lib arts, philo etc =no diversity… Hello!?! what about your precious Gender Studies..Cuttsville!

Touché. Let me clarify a bit.

The article uses the University of Michigan, a “Public Ivy,” as a case study. The general fear expressed about the article and the trend in general is that important aspects of a liberal arts education – philosophy, the great books, appreciation for art, etc. – will be axed for more business and engineering classes. As an over-indulger in the ivory tower “useless” degrees (English, philosophy, religious studies, gender studies, history) myself, I can say with confidence that these developments do not worry me.

First, U. Mich is reacting to the choices of its students, not banning some major it deems unworthy of study. There is no reason to maintain a massive classical studies department if no one wants to study it. Second, it is adding new majors that are equally liberal-artsy, if a bit more practical (e.g. Conflict Analysis). These new majors are the biggest benefit, because they allow students to apply what they learn and see real results. Third, even if U. Mich turns into the world’s most elite trade school, is that a bad thing? Are M.I.T. and Julliard “trade” schools? Is anyone going to miss the philosophy department at the University of Idaho?

I would much rather see courses in creativity, lateral-thinking, and systems theory – all of which are partially based in philosophy – than philosophy courses proper.

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