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In Defense of the Liberal Arts

By Victor Hanson

The liberal arts face a perfect storm. The economy is struggling with obscenely high unemployment and is mired in massive federal and state deficits. Budget cutting won’t spare education.

The public is already angry over fraud, waste, and incompetence in our schools and universities. And in these tough times, taxpayers rightly question everything about traditional education — from teachers’ unions and faculty tenure to the secrecy of university admissions policies to which courses really need to be taught.

Opportunistic private trade schools have sprouted in every community, offering online certification in practical skills without the frills and costs of so-called liberal-arts “electives.”

In response to these challenges, the therapeutic academic Left proved incapable of defending the traditional liberal arts. With three decades of defining the study of literature and history as a melodrama of race, class, and gender oppression, it managed to turn off college students and the general reading public. And, cheek by jowl, the utilitarian Right succeeded in reclassifying business and finance not just as undergraduate majors, but also as core elements in general-education requirements.

In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges,

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