Freedom and Intellectual Life

What is the point of studying the humanities? The question reflects the current climate among humanist educators: anxiety shading into despair. As enrollments decline, programs are cut, and tenure diminishes, mainstream educational institutions are becoming uncomfortable places for teachers who want . . . . Continue Reading »

An Emerging Irony for the Professors

When you talk to humanities professors, especially those at elite institutions, it doesn’t take long for the complaints to begin. They say that the administration doesn’t support them, choosing to invest in the sciences and business school, not language, literature, and culture. They witness the number of majors plummet—English used to collect nearly 8 percent of majors; now it’s close to 3 percent—and they feel unappreciated. (At my own institution, the number of majors has dropped by more than 50 percent since I arrived in 1989.) The overall drift toward the “corporate university” reflects values they abhor, and many of them would like to move, but the job market is terrible. Continue Reading »

The Enemies, and Friends, of the Humanities

A funny thing happened when Michael Novak brought Herbert Marcuse to lecture to his students. It was the early-1970s when campus rebellion had entered its darker phase, and Marcuse was an idol of the Movement. His theory of “repressive tolerance” served as an essential touchstone for protest, and his volatile mix of Marx and Freud seemed an edgy, relevant style of intellectualized activism. Continue Reading »