Victor Davis Hanson // National Review
The great culture wars on the campuses of the 1980s were largely lost by traditionalists. And the question then became not if but when the liberal arts would die off as a result. What is strange nearly 40 years later is that the apparent outrage over what was clearly foreordained is now becoming fact. What did academia expect, given its years of academic specialization and politicized indoctrination?
Recently the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point announced plans to drop liberal-arts majors in geography, geology, French, German, two- and three-dimensional art — and history. The Atlantic ran a well-meaning essay by Adam Harris on the controversial move, “The Liberal Arts May Not Survive the 21st Century” — again, a topic much in the news recently. The article’s chief thrust is that insidious efforts to promote STEM vocationalism — the need to prepare young people for careers requiring extensive math and science skill sets — has driven out the need for more in-depth focus on the liberal arts, in a climate in which crass Republican state legislators, in allegedly vindictive and short-sighted fashion, demanded catastrophic cuts in state public higher-education budgets.
The Stevens Point campus highlighted a popular perception that emphases in literature, history, or languages lead nowhere for cash-strapped graduates but to more debt and fewer jobs. Yet what the article on official university policy misses is why students do not concentrate in the liberal arts in the fashion of the past.