Feb 28, 2024

Bleeding the Humanities to Death

Is this the end of the Arts degree?

Sarah BrowneLiterature Editor

In 2015, Maggie Nelson described the current climate of culture as “committed to bleeding the humanities to death”. Since then, universities across the United States have increasingly slashed through their humanities departments with hundreds of faculty members being let go of in single sweeps. In many cases, the English department is the top target.

Many voices have been heralding the end of the humanities for several decades. With the boom of STEM at the turn of the millennium, the ‘usefulness’ of the humanities in the face of profit-churning degrees was thrown into question. At a time of crippling inflation and a steady decline in people’s ability to sustain themselves financially, funding for the humanities is thrown into question by government deflection from the real issues at hand – namely privately accumulated wealth that has no intention of being publicly shared. Subjects which expand our understanding of ourselves and enrich the world around us are thought of as naive pursuits in the face of failed market economics and endless profiteering.

This reign of terror over the humanities has spewed across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom – Ireland’s academic institutions have been relatively untouched so far. The University of Kent is currently working towards “phasing out” courses in the humanities in favour of subjects such as law, business and computing. 58 academic posts are at risk of redundancy due to these changes. A spokesman for the university said that the review was made in line with areas “where we no longer feel we can be competitive” despite having produced two Nobel Laureates in Literature. The University of East Anglia is not far behind. With one of the most prestigious creative writing MFAs in the world, the university announced last summer that it would cut 31 out of 36 academic posts in the arts and humanities.


Despite there being no similar endemic in Ireland at third level, it is clear to see the Department of Education’s favouring of STEM-related subjects in secondary schools with Higher Level Maths being granted an additional twenty-five points in the Leaving Certificate. This move seeks to, quite literally, devalue the robust critical scrutiny, empathy and communication that the humanities teach students. The twenty-five extra points are no indication of difficulty level as, in pre-COVID times, the percentage of students receiving H1s in English was at just 3% – the lowest percentage of all subjects. If we are going to unequally distribute points based on merit, shouldn’t excellence in a humanities subject such as English be rewarded as highly as its counterpart?

The ever-present diatribe against the arts and humanities as “dead-end” subjects speaks to a larger move within the culture towards ceaseless monetary enrichment. The thought of engaging with and producing work for the sake of public good, or simply personal good, is not unthinkable, but rather derogatorily “immature” to the dominant narrative that has trickled into academic boards. National and social benefits are reaped from STEM subjects and the product of those benefits, wealth, is the main token of “value”. The results of this way of thinking are evident – we see some of our most rewarding departments defunded. 

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