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Harvard Must Boost Humanities to Stop Decline, Report Says

By Oliver Staley
June 06, 2013 10:50 AM EDT 2 Comments
A student residence stands at Harvard University in Cambridge.
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
A student residence stands at Harvard University in Cambridge.

Harvard University needs to do more to encourage freshmen to study humanities to halt a slide in undergraduate interest in subjects including art history, literature and music, a university report said.

Harvard College, the undergraduate division, should expose more freshmen to humanities during orientation, create art and exhibition spaces and fund internships to allow students to experience careers in the arts, according to a statement today on Harvard’s website.

Philosophical and artistic concepts are essential for describing and ultimately changing the world, according to one of three reports Harvard issued today about rejuvenating the study of the humanities. The report expressed concern that the number of students concentrating in humanities at Harvard has dropped to 17 percent from 24 percent in 1954, and more than half of those who intend to concentrate in the humanities end up graduating from other departments.

“A Harvard College education must provide our students with the ability to interpret ideas, regardless of discipline, in order to prepare them for the world they will enter,” Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, said in the statement.

The skills developed by the study of humanities -- the ability to reason, analyze and debate -- are more important than ever, Smith said. Also, humanities students have the highest levels of satisfaction and tend to stick to their studies, according to the report.

Harvard is preparing to announce a capital campaign in September that will raise funds for buildings and new initiatives. In a statement last week, Harvard President Drew Faust set the generation of new knowledge “across the natural and social sciences and humanities,” as the first of seven principles that will be addressed by the campaign.

The Harvard Crimson student newspaper has reported that the campaign goal will be at least $6 billion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Staley in London at ostaley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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