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Higher Ed Shake Up
Japan Defunds Social Sciences and Humanities

The “death of the humanities” is not just an American phenomenon. Noah Smith has a piece referencing this article in Time, which reports that the Japanese Education Ministry has proposed major cuts to humanities and social science departments across the country:

More than two dozen Japanese universities have announced that they will reduce or altogether eliminate their academic programs in the humanities and social sciences, following a dictum from Tokyo to focus on disciplines that “better meet society’s needs.”

The reductions are not just in departments typically associated with low earnings potential, however:

Law and economics fall within the purview of the condemned disciplines. Seventeen universities will no longer recruit students to study them; the rest will eliminate elective courses within them. The Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto — Japan’s only two universities to clear the top hundred in world university rankings — said they would not heed the government’s call.

These education proposals are seen as an offshoot of Abenomics, and are intended to help Japan compete better in the global economy. Though the circumstances are different in the two countries, the reasoning behind the government order may look awfully familiar to those following the higher education story here at home. Many in both countries apparently assume that the STEM degrees are essential to the economy of the future while humanities degrees are more disposable.

However, the ability to think broadly, traditionally a hallmark of humanities and social science majors, is an important asset for journalists, investors, policymakers, and many other types of employees. The information economy needs workers who can creatively sort and prioritize ideas. Furthermore, as Barry Strauss notes in his excellent TAI review of Fareed Zakaria’s In Defense of a Liberal Education, the argument for studying the humanities is not just about employability, but also that “it will make our souls more beautiful” (read the whole thing).

The focus on STEM degrees, of course, is a response to a very real problem: Governments around the world need better ways to build twenty-first century workforces. Tomorrow’s workers need to be competitive, and to learn the skills that the market demands. But neither in the U.S. or in Japan should we underestimate the importance of the humanities.

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  • Blackbeard

    I don’t know about Japan but in the U.S. the social sciences are largely leftist propaganda. Of course people should be free to study whatever they like at their own expense but I wouldn’t spend one Federal dollar on that nonsense.

  • Tate Metlen

    Sure, all those positives are true. They make a great hobby.

    • f1b0nacc1

      And my hobby is tinkering, for which I don’t expect to be paid out of the public purse…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “However, the ability to think broadly, traditionally a hallmark of humanities and social science majors, is an important asset for journalists, investors, policymakers, and many other types of employees. The information economy needs workers who can creatively sort and prioritize ideas.”

    I would argue that studying the Hard Sciences which demand the use of the scientific method to discover truth, is much better at accomplishing the goals stated above. Most American University campuses are NOT places open to contrasting views, or open honest debate, but rather places of leftist homogeneity where opposing views are forbidden.

    • JR

      I would go one step further. When the University did serve as a place where one could think creatively, liberal arts degrees had a high degree of value. Once liberal homogeneity set in, critical thinking ceased and these degrees lost their value. People were able to skate by the reputation for a while, but new graduates enter a world where everyone knows the exact value of an Oberlin Sociology degree. And it is not that high.

    • lurkingwithintent

      I would argue that you are probably wrong, since how we ought to live is not discovered by the scientific method. I know a good number of scientists who are good at science, but that does not help them to be people who think broadly. I even had a science teacher for whom communist ideology determined her teaching of science, but it didn’t keep her out of a tenure track position in the hard sciences. I do know some who are very narrow and almost incapable of living with others. It is what make the show the Big Bang Theory work. The assumption that science helps us arrive at “truth” is not a very good one. The humanities are mushy in many ways and it is quite true that in our present moment they have been co-opted by some pretty silly notions, but that is human life and such is the subject matter of the humanities. I am not a big fan of public spending on higher education period, because it tends to distort the whole enterprise. If business and the economy need certain kinds of employees, them maybe we should encourage them to fund the kinds of education they desire in a free market competition of ideas and study. Those who provide the best suited students who are capable of what the market needs will succeed and those who don’t will not. If we want broad minded people, the last thing we should do is offer them up the silliness of multiculturalism that passes itself off as the present incarnation of an education in the humanities.

  • Andrew Allison

    The public and private investment in humanities degree is largely wasted. Why on earth should we encourage something for which there is already a surfeit? Just how many humanities-educated burger flippers do we need? Not to mention the debt with which we are saddling these refugees from the real world.

  • Fat_Man

    The “the ability to think broadly … {and] creatively sort and prioritize ideas” are anathema in the modern US college. You are more likely to find them among the inmates of a medium security prison than amongst the students of a high priced US college.

    The entire purpose of undergraduate education in the United States in 2015 is simply to indoctrinate students in political correctness. All the students are taught is multiculturalism and how to use their hurt feelings as a bludgeon. Their mantras are “the debate is over!”, “racist!”, and “shut up!”. When they hear something they disagree with they run to their safety zones, curl up with their security blankets, and suck their thumbs.

    Further, the faculties are worthless. Ph.Ds in the politics of hip-hop and gender roles in modern science fiction. Carefully selected for their race, sex, sexual preferences, and left wing politics. They can no more teach humanities than they can teach higher mathematics.

    Henry VIII knew what to do with institutions like the modern American University. We should follow his example.

  • To See or Not to See

    Humanities education is a lifetime thing. You can read books on history and literature without attending humanities classes. Besides, humanity professors are only interested in political indoctrination anyway.

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