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Frank Donoghue’s article in the Chronicle is misguided: he forgets the public good that comes from broad-based public higher education.

Frank Donoghue’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Can the Humanities Survive the 21st Century? brought again to my attention the on-going struggle to  convince people — in this case an Ohio State English professor — of the value of a broad-based education.

But first, for local interest, Donoghue does mention the state system. “Other universities can tell similar stories: Indiana University of Pennsylvania recently built the largest dormitory in the country. The good times are rolling in higher education.”  I’m sure IUP faculty will be bemused and conflicted to see their university cited as an example of “good times”, since their management in July formally indicated to them that faculty retrenchment was in the planning.  It shows how off target Donoghue (or IUP management) is.

Donoghue’s argument is that a university and the humanities are no longer synonymous.  He points to various examples, starting with his physician-researcher who thinks the university is in good shape (obviously not on the retrenchment list at IUP, or any of six other PASSHE institutions), and to the for-profit sector (which graduates no English majors, amazingly),  to how less than half of college graduates have majored in traditional humanities since 1970, and to faculty salaries across the disciplines.

All are interesting points.

But Donoghue’s argument fails to grasp that, despite the trend otherwise, we need the humanities more now than ever before.


First, as is now frequently cited, our students have 10 jobs between the ages of 18 and 30.  Only a broad-based education can provide them a series of quality opportunities, not just their foot in the door as the assistant manager at Walmart.

Second, the humanities are the source of most of our professional class — lawyers, doctors (like the one Donoghue cites, as well as Donoghue himself), most Ph.D.s and even most M.BA’s.

Third, we live in a democratic society that depends on the education of its citizenry: politics, philosophy, literature and languages are important to us all so that we understand our nation and our world and can direct it, through our vote and our other civic actions.

Fourth, employers want employees who aren’t trained in just the job in front of them, but who can speak articulately, sometimes in more than one language, can think critically, and who can write and argue articulately.   Those are the employees who make employers’ lives easier.

In the end, Donoghue’s argument goes to the importance of the Bayh-Dole act, which set guidelines for Federal research grants.  This shows his bias and his tunnel-vision: he can only imagine a world of either research Carnegie I institutions, private universities with high tuition (as he cites Yale and classical languages at one point), or for-profits.  He can’t imagine public education that broadly educates the masses, providing real opportunity for real growth, either intellectual, civic, or occupational, to everyone.

What he’s forgotten is what we as faculty and coaches in the state system live every day: that public higher education is a public good that makes a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of students who have more opportunity than just being trained for that first job.  It’s a painful thing to read on the cover of the nation’s most cited publication in higher education; it’s worse when it reflects a national trend.

Broad-based public higher education is a valuable public good.  It’s our mantra.  Repeat and remember.

— Steve