Profitable Humanities, Cont.

Since it came up in a discussion of my previous post (and in the comments there), here’s my position on the bigger question (that is, should we be measuring the worth of the English department [or others] in financial terms?):

For me, the problems with addressing the financial value of the humanities are two: first, an in-principle objection: That’s just not the right way to think about it. Many commenters on Facebook have countered this objection with a real practical concern for which I have no solution, namely, that financial considerations seem to be the only ones that matter to administrators.

But to take one example of why this line of thinking can be troublesome: If we start working on these terms, don’t we have to mention that part of the reason we can be so profitable is that our faculty make less than in other disciplines and we rely so heavily on adjuncts and graduate students?

My second objection is more pragmatic: There’s no way to win this fight. There’s no meaningful way to cut up the numbers in which we come out even or ahead. Implication: The author of the original article‘s net-operating-profit-or-loss analysis is not “meaningful.” I feel like if he had spent ten minutes with a VP of the University, he might’ve realized that the road he’s on leads to dark places for the humanities. But no, he asked the Assistant Dean of the Humanities—responsible only for the operating budget of the humanities division and its departments—to crunch some numbers.

This feels a little like arguing that there’s no problem with the economy because my accountant told me that my family is saving responsibly. The ship is sinking; it’s pointless to think about whether any one cabin has flooded or not.

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