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Have the Humanities Sealed Their Fate?

by Chris Cumo

Underemployment and unemployment have plagued the humanities
for 30 years, writes Robert Weisbuch, president of the Woodrow Wilson National
Fellowship Foundation, in “The Year of Full Employment,” published in the
September 4, 2001, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The temptation is
great to blame universities for producing too many Ph.D.s and too few tenuretrack
jobs, but this rationale ignores the extent to which the humanities have made
themselves obsolete by misunderstanding the nature of universities.

Those in the humanities act as though universities are crystals suspended in
animate in solution.

“These arise first in the twelfth century, and the modern university is derived
in its fundamental features from them,” writes historian Charles Homer Haskins
in The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.

That is, universities have changed only superficially since then, retaining
their function as guardians and producers of knowledge. This is a conservative
view of universities, one that extols their role as repositories of the past, as they
were in medieval Europe. The University of Paris built its reputation on scholasticism
and with it, on Aristotle’s logic and metaphysics, and faculty even dabbled
in Roman law before ceding its study to Italians at the

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