Humanities At UM Under Attack

by William Skink

Don’t be misled by the PR Orwellian newspeak coming from the University of Montana, the recently unveiled “Strategy of Distinction” is an obfuscation of the real intent, which is this: use the budget crisis to take a machete to the humanities.

Now, according to this cry for help published in the Missoulian last Sunday, one looming consequence of the proposed cuts is the real possibility UM could lose the distinction of offering one of the premier MFA writing programs in the country.

In the article, a professor I’ve had the pleasure of taking a class from had this to say:

“My question to the public is, ‘Is this what you want?”’ Blunt said. “We are touted as one of the marquee programs at the University of Montana. We are trotted out frequently in that guise. And they are starving us to death.”

The attack on humanities is not new, and not unique to the University of Montana. It is not even limited to higher education in the US, according to this NYT article from 2013:

In the global marketplace of higher education, the humanities are increasingly threatened by decreased funding and political attacks.

Financing for humanities research in the United States has fallen steadily since 2009, and in 2011 was less than half of one percent of the amount dedicated to science and engineering research and development. This trend is echoed globally: According to a report in Research Trends magazine, by Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilan, international arts and humanities funding has been in constant decline since 2009.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America, says the decline in funding for humanities research in the United States is related both to fiscal emergencies and “the devaluing of the humanities, especially by legislators who themselves have not experienced first-hand the value of studying the humanities.”

Last year a task force convened by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida recommended that students majoring in liberal arts and social science subjects should pay higher tuition fees, arguing they were “nonstrategic disciplines.” Reacting against that, an online petition, which more than 2,000 people signed, warned that the differential tuition model would lead “to a decimation of the liberal arts in Florida.”

The attack on humanities is not just some business-minded solution to budget problems, it’s part of a larger attack on our capacity as humans to be connected to our past and to feel empowered to shape our future. A mindless present unmoored from historical context and unconcerned about the suicidal recklessness of our consumption is great for short-term shareholder profits, but terrible for life on earth—all life.

To repeat Judy Blunt’s question to the public, is this what you want, Missoula?

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Humanities At UM Under Attack

  1. JC says:

    The demise of the humanities has other implications: the ability of an intelligent and informed populace to understand world events, in their historical context moving forward into a multi-polar world where Russia, China and Iran “reassert the principle of cultural and political difference and heterodoxy, within the global sphere.”

    Alastaire Crooke does an excellent job in this essay, utilizing an extensive breadth of the humanities to understand current geopolitical happenings. Read of the day, if not the week!

    The West’s Trauma of its Dissolution

    The attack on Syria is not some ‘bump in the road’, easily passed, and after which, we may sigh, and slump back to business as usual. The trauma generated by secular western utopianism (European Enlightenment) being in dissolution is not something to be passed through quite so easily. ‘Otherness’ – other cultures – are coalescing and taking us to different outcomes, albeit still in their latency. We should expect more ‘bumps in the road’. We should expect surprise. The next ‘bumps’ might well be more dangerous. The West’s trauma of its dissolution will not be short or without its violence, particularly as the shock of finding that ‘technology’ is not somehow inherent to western culture, but that the ‘other’ can do it as well, or even better, strikes at the very core of the western ‘myth’ of its own exceptionalism

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