[Marxism] The Uneasy Relationship between Business and the Humanities

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 11 15:57:44 MDT 2008

This article titled "The Uneasy Relationship between Business and the 
Humanities" became chapter one of Frank Donoghue's "The Last Professors":


Early Criticism of the Liberal Arts from Corporate Critics

Let us begin by looking at the turn of the twentieth century, a 
period when our nation's universities and economy were growing at an 
unprecedented rate. Driven by booming and largely unregulated 
industrial growth, America's total national wealth during those years 
doubled­from $87.9 billion in 1900 to $165.4 billion in 1910, 
doubling again to $335.4 billion by 1920­and no subsequent increases 
have ever approached these rates. At the same time, higher 
education's growth was also exploding. The country's 18- to 
24-year-old population attending college rose from 2.3 percent in 
1900 to 2.9 percent in 1910, and by 1930 had risen to 7.2 percent. 
Not until the post-World War II era was there a comparable surge in 
enrollment. While the number of universities did not grow so 
vigorously (increasing from 977 institutions in 1900 to 1,409 in 
1930), the number of faculty more than tripled­from 23,868 in 1900 to 
82,386 in 1930. It was during these decades­although no one 
acknowledged it in exactly these terms­both attackers and defenders 
of universities spoke from a position of strength, as reflected in 
energetic polemics.

A century ago, attacks on higher education came not from journalists 
subsidized by conservative think tanks (such as the Olin Foundation, 
which supported both D'Souza and Kimball), but from prominent 
industrialists themselves. Because they spoke as unapologetic 
capitalists, they made claims that modern critics of the university 
would never venture. Andrew Carnegie, the meagerly educated self-made 
multimillionaire, was perhaps the earliest and certainly one of the 
sharpest critics of traditional liberal arts education and curricula, 
the humanities' foreground. He had the following to say in an 1891 
commencement address at the Pierce College of Business and Shorthand 
of Philadelphia:

"In the storms of life are they [traditional graduates] to be 
strengthened and sustained and held to their post and to the 
performance of duty by drawing upon Hebrew or Greek barbarians as 
models. . .? Is Shakespeare or Homer to be the reservoir from which 
they draw? . . . I rejoice, therefore, to know that your time has not 
been wasted upon dead languages, but has been fully occupied in 
obtaining a knowledge of shorthand and typewriting. . . and that you 
are fully equipped to sail upon the element upon which you must live 
your lives and earn your living."

Carnegie concludes that "college education as it exists today seems 
almost fatal" in the business domain, and he starkly contrasts such 
traditionally educated students, "adapted for life on another 
planet," to "the future captain of industry. . . hotly engaged in the 
school of experience, obtaining the very knowledge required for his 
future triumphs". And he lauds the relatively new practice of 
populating university boards of trustees with businessmen, noting 
what he perceives to be the intransigence of academics, "professors 
and principals [presidents] who are bound in their set ways and have 
a class feeling about them which makes it impossible to make 
reforms." Though he allows that graduates of polytechnic and 
scientific schools have an advantage over traditional apprentices in 
that they are likely to be "open-minded and without prejudice," he 
uses that exception to justify his conviction that the only 
worthwhile education is that which has "bearing on a man's career if 
he is to make his way to fortune." As a philanthropist, Andrew 
Carnegie was true to his word: The terms of the Carnegie Trust for 
the Universities of Scotland (his native country) provide for money 
for "English Literature and Modern Languages, and such other subjects 
cognate to a technical or commercial education."


More information about the Marxism mailing list