Can the Humanities Be Saved?

Lauren RubensteinJuly 8, 20132min
President Roth replies with skepticism to those who bemoan the death of the humanities

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth joined an all-star cast of scholars and critics on The Colin McEnroe Show to discuss the state of the humanities.

Roth points out that scholars have been bemoaning the decline of the humanities for a century. “The numbers don’t show at all a crisis in the humanities, unless you pick a starting point at the highest level of humanities enrollments. Otherwise, it’s pretty stable. I know at Wesleyan, it’s very stable. I think that what we do see in the United States at times of economic anxiety, which are frequent here…is questioning about whether a well-rounded education is worth it… At the same time, in our current economy, people who have enormous success in inventiveness and creativity, in surprising discoveries, are people who often–not always, but often–have an education from which they can draw in a variety of ways.”

Humanities courses at Wesleyan and other universities maintain their appeal to students “because they look at eternal questions that have plagued us for a long, long time–in ethics, in philosophy of language and of knowledge–and they also look at contemporary issues that we have a hard time figuring out, because they don’t have a simple technical answer. If you don’t believe there’s a simple technical answer to the most important questions, then the humanities and a liberal education are for you.”

Roth joins the discussion at about 28 minutes.