Futuring Paper – Arts & Humanities

Co-conveners: Rachel Dressler and Lotfi Sayahi

The diverse nature of both the disciplines and departments involved makes teasing out generalities not a straightforward process.
Our overarching concern as we raise a generation to avoid deep contemplation and reflection, to avoid an appreciation of history and the past, generally, and to avoid substantive engagement with languages and cultures that aren't those of our birth, is that more and more violence - personally and internationally - becomes inevitable. 

When we let the bridges across temporal, linguistic, and cultural divides decay and disintegrate, we doom ourselves and others to the terrible fearfulness that results when everything and everyone is an unfamiliar, a stranger.  The inevitable response then is violence towards others and even ourselves. STEM is critical to our continued progress as a species, but it cannot address this circumstance. 

The cultural context in which we locate scientific advancement will always determine whether we use the scientific advancement of the cell phone, for example, to communicate with each other across time and space, or to remotely blow each other up. 

1.     What forces are shaping your discipline today (learning, work, and professional practice)?

  • Online resources: Impact of digital technologies on research, presentation, and publication in the arts and humanities. Availability of online resources for research and teaching (archives and secondary literature means greater access to data but less access to original documents; very important in case of works of art).

  • Interdisciplinarity: While interdisciplinarity can mean colleagues from diverse disciplines working together, for arts and humanities faculty it more often entails the scholar/artist employing the methods and resources of multiple disciplines within a single project.

  • Globalization: Global conversations via social networking and in general a more global outlook in both scholarship and creative activity. The general forces driving globalization will result in more and more combining language with other fields as students come to recognize that the majority of the world speaks more than one language and knowledge of English alone does not provide a competitive edge. The Government has designated many languages as “critical languages” thus increasing student demand especially among those students who are interested in security-related professions. UAlbany offers 5 critical languages out of the 60 listed by the federal National Security Education Program (NSEP): Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian.  Domestically, the conversation surrounding diversity has resulted in some recognition of the value of /increased support for the maintenance of heritage language skills among our own population, but bilingualism is still not fully embraced by the American school system and society at large.

  • Lack of resources: Decreasing resources for arts and humanities within the university and in society in general with growing and increasingly exclusive emphasis on STEM fields; reinforced and generated by pressure to instrumentalize education. The lack of arts and humanities research funding by all but elite universities is having a serious impact on scholarship. Despite the abundance of quantitative findings that the humanities are extremely cost-efficient, universities continue to underfund and even make further cuts to humanities departments.

  • Publishing: Publishing pressure at both Assistant and Associate Professor level combined with increasing use of adjuncts leading to pressure on teaching effectiveness; especially true in those disciplines where the monograph remains the “gold standard” for tenure and promotion. The strictures of time limits for an expected number of published pages discourages humanities researchers from taking the intellectual risks their STEM peers are permitted, to “experiment.” In STEM fields, even failed experiments may result in publications; in the humanities, exploratory research that does not bear immediate fruit could result in the punitive assigning of “extra” classes to teach without an increase in pay and in failure to achieve tenure and promotion.

  • Vocational emphasis: The drive for technological advancement and business efficiency is the prominent force shaping the professional practice and teaching of the arts and humanities. Emphasis on competency-based, outcome-oriented education, and assessment, especially by metrics inappropriate for humanities and arts disciplines (over-quantification). Increasing emphasis on hyper-specialization and the insistence on the acquisition of narrow skills as opposed to the development of more rounded global citizens with high ability of written and oral expression and critical thinking.

  • Changing student demographic:  The student population is increasingly diverse racially, ethnically, and in gender and sexual orientation. For example, the Hispanic population, currently at 38.4 million, is already the largest ethnic or racial minority group in the US. The number of U.S. residents 5 and older who speak Spanish at home has increased 233% since 1980. There will be 41 million Hispanic Spanish speakers by 2020.

  • Student debt: Students increasingly go into debt as states refuse to fund their universities and they do so for jobs that don't exist. If this continues, the arts and humanities will return to being the purview of the elite, as it was before the grand experiment of public education began.

  • Changing student interests: Loss of public interest in and support for the arts and humanities.  The shifting interest of students, and perhaps more so their parents, towards fields that are seen as leading directly to jobs, possibly driven by lack of primary and secondary level arts education. Made worse by poorly informed admissions and student advisement staff with respect to arts and humanities. Students are interested in studying more than one language perhaps at the expense of studying a single language as deeply as they once did. They are less interested in the study of literature alone, preferring to study literature in the context of general culture and/or to study linguistics. They show more interest in service learning and study abroad but are often opting for programs of short duration and/or that do not require significant language study before departure. They are also interested in the mastery of the language for special purposes (business, health sciences, fashion, engineering, etc.), and in translation.

  •  Lower enrollments: At the same time, however, increasing resources are being pushed toward STEM subjects and professional training. Some even consider a broad training in the liberal arts unnecessary. As a result, enrollment in university arts and humanities programs across the United States has fallen.

2.     In ten years, what forces will shape changes in your discipline? How will professional practice be affected?

  • Decreasing  support for public education: Without sufficient support for public education arts and humanities will become the purview of the elite or take place mainly in lifelong learning environments. Without substantive and consistent support for arts and humanities students will lack opportunity to experience high-quality, professional artistic performances and speakers, further decreasing their interest and understanding of these creative and scholarly productions.

  • Adjuncts: Increasing use of adjuncts to teach courses in arts and humanities. Studies suggest that the adjunctification of universities is already having an adverse effect on the quality of research and teaching. Tenure was developed to encourage innovative new ideas and new technologies. There is now a significant portion (70% by some estimates) of university faculty too exhausted by heavy, adjunct teaching demands to publish, and too cowed by a lack of a path to a secure job to pursue all but the “safest” topics. 

  • Disciplinary categories: Traditional disciplinary categories are being constantly reinvented.  For example, Cultural Studies has become a central focus of many humanities departments.

  • Collaborative Learning: Decreased emphasis on content-based learning and more on synthetic and collaborative problem solving.

  • Shifting roles for arts professionals: Museum professionals, specifically directors and curators, will be closer to management professionals than scholars.

  • Digital access: Increasing use of digital tools, while broadening access to and awareness of materials and resources, could also  lead to a desire for more concrete, tangible encounters, especially in the arts—desire to experience and explore art’s materiality. Shaped by the forces of technosocial acceleration, today’s students are weaned on electronically distributed visual culture and (arguably) are less impacted by literary texts than were previous generations.  This generation of students will present new challenges and opportunities to instructors in arts and humanities.

  • Political, economic, and demographic changes:  These will affect student numbers for the study of certain languages and cultures: currently, Arabic and Chinese are among the fastest growing languages studied in the US while Russian has seen enrollment decrease starting in the early 1990. The interest in studying certain languages and cultures could shift depending on the global political, economic, and demographic situation.

  • Growing desire for profession/field-specific language training: For example, Spanish, for healthcare, business, law enforcement. Proficiency-based standards (goals are now communication-based, but teaching and evaluation practices have not caught up to goals; still largely based around grammatical accuracy on decontextualized, written tests).

  •  Electronic publishing: scholars will enter into professional and public sphere discourse through exclusively electronic, open-access mediums that are more cost-efficient than traditional forms of paper publication. 

3.     What are the implications for your profession, continuous professional development, and teaching and learning? Specifically, what new opportunities may be created in the future?

  • Renewed interest in the arts and humanities: Arts and humanities disciplines finding ways to respond to desire for more professionally oriented education without losing sight of value of research not tied to specific employment possibilities.  Renewed interest in the arts and humanities will have been spawned by the multiplication of new global, ethical, and political crises. Society will increasingly look to our humanities departments for help assessing the historical and ethical context of these dilemmas from the rich vein of knowledge in which we have expertise. With an adjustment of thinking on both sides educational institutions and employers may come to see a knowledge of the arts and humanities as crucial to problem solving.

  • Digital humanities:  With increased use of digital tools may come a more publically engaged scholarship and creative practice.  With greater social media networking and electronic communication will come increased contact with colleagues abroad; disciplines could be de-centered and more global.

  • Cultural studies: Greater move in the direction of film/media studies, or more broadly towards Cultural Studies (which are areas of greater interest to students).

  • Critical and heritage languages: The less commonly taught languages are increasing in popularity among students. There is also interest in heritage language teaching and learning to meet the specific needs and increasing presence of heritage speakers.

  •  Study abroad:  More students desiring more travel abroad.  A study abroad experience will likely increase in importance as a component of a liberal arts education. Unfortunately many students at UAlbany see that opportunity as something beyond their economic means. Whether that’s simply their misperception or real, it is a notion that needs to be addressed.

  • Online teaching: We’re going to have to come to grips with the pedagogical shift toward online modes of teaching and ask ourselves, how do we teach the arts and humanities in an increasingly digitized world? When is it appropriate to be analog?

4.     How will the future developments and opportunities affect the university – impacted departments or units? How might UAlbany respond to these within the strategic planning process?

  • The core mission of the university includes giving students training in analysis and critical thinking. The advanced study of history, philosophy, arts, literatures, cultures, and other languages fulfills that mission in a unique and powerful way.

  • The university should recognize that the college students of New York State are best served by a curriculum that features deep engagement with cultural texts, and that that engagement is best facilitated by thoughtful scholar-teachers who work with small groups of students in face-to-face contexts.

  • It is worth mentioning that most students will go on to change their job several times over the course of their life. It is unlikely that any of them will do the same thing as their career over their entire working life. Training in the humanities equips them to think critically, write clearly, and communicate effectively. Although narrower professional education might serve them better in their first job, supplementing that with humanities education better equips them for the uncertain future of doing whatever it is they end up doing.

  • UAlbany must recognize the evolving publishing environment that is shaping arts and humanities and accordingly adjust institutional scholarly expectations. 

  • Enrollments in arts and humanities will continue to decline without major societal change forcing the university to decide whether or not it will give full support of these fields despite the numbers—do they have inherent value. Without sufficient funding of arts and humanities students interested in these disciplines will choose to attend other colleges and universities.

  • UAlbany needs to recognize the importance of the arts and humanities to its educational mission and to re-commit (meaning resources and moral support) to them. UAlbany should demonstrate that the arts and humanities have a place in 21st-century research university teaching and scholarship by prioritizing the building and maintenance of excellence of arts and humanities departments through the provision of adequate hiring, professional development, and other kinds of support. UAlbany demonstrating a commitment to all the departments on campus rather than simply those that are perceived to generate revenue.

  • UAlbany should make every effort to support innovative programs proposed by departments without losing sight of the value of some more traditional approaches.

  • Restore and develop more languages: The University should not consider elementary and intermediate language offerings sufficient to develop the linguistic and cultural competencies that students will need in the 21st century. The University offers minimum courses in several languages, including critical languages such as Arabic, where not even a minor is offered.  The University should consider restoring the two-semester language requirement and look to establish a climate that encourages students to see the value of continued language study beyond the elementary level.

  • Retooling of study abroad programs to encourage students to participate and advance towards their degrees at the same time.

  • Increase diversity among the faculty to go together with the increased diversity in the student population.

  • Online teaching: blended classes and development of new courses that aim at a sustained engagement with the world beyond the walls of academia. In terms of teaching, professors have more ways to connect with their students.  We can use social media technology such Facebook and twitter to engage with our students.  We can create online courses and co-teach courses with overseas colleagues. 

  • Opportunities to partner with other departments and schools within the university to provide language training appropriate for students pursuing particular career paths.

  • Look for ways to build partnerships between arts and humanities programs and other degree programs/departments/schools.