The University of Montana set a record of $83 million in research grants and awards.
Grants came from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There will be studies on how life evolved on Earth, the history of “human, climate and resource relationships” in Bristol Bay, Alaska, examining “gene expression” and other cool stuff. This is good news and a much needed infusion of money during a budget shortfall at UM, but what’s become of the liberal arts?
Harper’s magazine asks that question in a piece called “The Neoliberal Arts.” There are big increases in the number of business and technology majors and a decline in those majoring in the humanities. The purpose of education now, it seems, is to create a commercial workforce, not thinking, analytical graduates.
The legislature consistently underfunds the university system so it’s no surprise that colleges and universities have to beat the bushes for additional money. One wonders, though, if the liberal arts don’t get shorted in the search for revenue. After all, there aren’t that many grants for poetry professors.
State government tends to agree that education for education’s sake isn’t a worthy goal. Yesterday’s annual report from from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry had this to say about education trends:
In what she called an aggressive effort, (Commissioner of Labor and Industry Pam) Bucy’s department is partnering with the Montana University System, two-year and tribal colleges and businesses to train workers quickly and reduce the amount of time spent out of the workforce for education. (Emphasis added.)
The focus is on streamlined training and expanded apprenticeship programs in high-demand industries such as health care, energy and manufacturing.
I certainly understand the need for engineers, technicians and accountants but let’s not forget writers and artists and musicians and philosophers, and those versed in foreign languages and cultures. How mundane life would be without them. More so, don’t we want everyone, including those with technical training, to be curious, to desire learning for the sake of learning, to reflect and grow, to be more than just a marketable commodity?