Saturday, January 28, 2012

Major Shift in Breadth Requirements at Stanford Stresses Skills Over Disciplinary Knowledge

In our recent article in Inside Higher Ed, “Fear of Being Useful,” Gerald Graff and I argued that those of us who teach in the humanities ought to be more aggressive in stressing the value of the practical skills we teach our students, and that employers in both for profit and not-for-profit sectors are actually eager to hire students with those skills. Two recent articles suggest educators, and the larger public, are beginning to embrace these arguments. The Chicago Sun-Times reports in a January 25, 2012 article, “Liberal arts grads have an edge, survey finds,” that “college graduates who, as seniors, scored highest on a standardized test to measure how well they think, reason and write — skills most associated with a liberal arts education — were far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest.” Accord to the report’s lead author, Richard Arum, a New York University professor, the report suggests “students would do well to appreciate the extent to which their development of general skills, not just majors and institution attended, is related to successful adult transitions.” And reports about the proposed new non-disciplinary, skills-based breadth requirements at Stanford University suggest faculty and administrators there seem to have already gotten the message. According to an article about the new requirements in today’s Stanford Daily, they will replace requirements rooted in disciplinary knowledge with “a new system based primarily on seven skills deemed essential for students: esthetic and interpretive inquiry; social inquiry; scientific analysis; formal and quantitative reasoning; engaging difference; moral and ethical reasoning; and creative expression.” This shift, of course, raises a lot of questions worth debating, and we look forward to writing more about them in the near future – and to your comments about them. You can read more about the new Stanford breadth requirements in “The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford University.”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Coming to Terms with Assessment

Developing and implementing meaningful but manageable procedures for assessing learning outcomes has become one of the key challenges for both faculty and administrators in higher education. During his tenure as President of MLA Jerry wrote a piece entitled “Assessment Changes Everything” that stirred a lot of debate, and we are reposting it here in hopes it can foster a meaningful dialogue about assessment. We’re including below selections from comments Greg and Paul had about Jerry’s article based on their own recent experiences. We hope these reports, and Jerry’s article, will help foster some discussion here about the vexing issues we cover. Please feel free to add your point of view -- or experience -- in a comment.

Paul Karloff, Chief Communication Officer of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has written to call our attention to some very important humanities-related resources on the Academy's website. Here they are with some brief descriptions provided by Mr. Karloff. We encourage you to use these resources and to follow the work of the commission.

The first  is the Humanities Indicators site, the most comprehensive collection of empirical data about the humanities in the United States. It provides the academic community, policy makers, and the public at large with an online source of statistical data about the state of the humanities, from primary to higher education to public humanities activities. The information is compiled and continually updated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The second link is to another American Academy initiative, the national Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. The goal of the Commission is to claim a space in the national dialogue for the humanities and the social sciences and to recommend specific steps that government, schools and universities, cultural institutions, businesses, and philanthropies can take to support and strengthen these areas of knowledge. The American Academy formed the Commission at the request of members of Congress. Commission members are focusing on education at the K-12 and higher education levels, as well as on other institutions critical to humanities and social sciences such as libraries and cultural institutions. Please note that you can register on this site to receive regular updates on the Commission's work.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fear of Being Useful

In "Fear of Being Useful," Paul Jay and Gerald Graff argue it's time to stop lamenting the crisis in the humanities and start taking advantage of the widely documented practical utility of a humanities education, which is increasingly attractive to employers in both for-profit and not-for-profit workplaces. The prospects look promising, but how do we balance training in the traditional disciplines with the development of general professional skills attractive to employers? What happens to studying the great books for their own sake? What happens to the idea the humanities is a space set aside to critique practical utility and the values of the corporate marketplace?

Thinking Outside the Academic Box When it Comes to Jobs for Literature PhDs

In "Reforming Doctoral Programs: The Sooner, the Better," Russell Berman, former MLA President, insists the business of graduate education in literary studies has to change. Given the limited number of academic teaching jobs new PhDs can compete for, Berman insists that graduate programs need to be redesigned so they can provide forms of professional development that, while important for an academic career, are transferable to other professions in for-profit and not-for-profit workplaces. Should literary studies be seen narrowly as the gateway to an academic teaching job, or should they be redesigned to enable students to move in a number of different career directions? If so, how? Berman is enthusiastic about the possibilities in fields related to the public humanities, publishing, translation, journalism, the film studies, and digital media. But what will happen to the study of literature if the stress is put on practical skills? Can we do it all without making fundamental changes that fracture the coherence of the discipline? Berman's piece is a keen follow-up to essays about the profession by former MLA Presidents Sidonie Smith and Gerald Graff.

OK, Let's Teach Graduate Students Differently. But How?

Brian Taylor
In "OK, Let's Teach Graduate Students Differently. But How?," Leonard Cassuto follows up on the proposals offered by Grafton and Grossman, insisting that if humanists are going to embrace the idea humanities PhDs should seek work outside academia some things must change. He cites a number of concrete innovations worth considering. Are they? How can we capitalize on these ideas, balancing a focus on marketable skills applicable outside of academia with the study of history as a purely academic enterprise? Or are we at a point where no field of study can -- or ought -- to be seen as purely academic?

Thinking Alt-ac in History

"No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History,"
By Anthony T. Grafton and Jim Grossman

The former President of the American Historical Society, and its current executive director, argue that historians need to do a lot more to prepare their students for jobs outside academia. Can a history PhD prepare students not just to teach but to work in the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds of publishing, business, politics, and new media? How will history programs have to change if they want to emphasize this kind of preparation? What's at stake, and how will historians balance a traditional focus on historical training with the cultivating of practical skills required in such workplaces? And what are the implications for other disciplines?