Are CS lectures at Stanford optional

Digital / breaks

Would educated contemporaries outside the university notice if the humanities disappeared from the institutional scene? Exactly this situation has already occurred -

Far too often it happens to me that I harass a visibly disinterested conversation partner (in the worst case for hours, for example during a transatlantic flight) with reports and personal opinions about American football, soccer or even ice hockey, but of the rule that I use here and now break, otherwise I hold myself with some consistency. I really only want to talk to colleagues (and not even to students) about the so-called “political” problems of the humanities and the news from their small world, especially because of the resentment-laden overestimation of this profession and the small-scale ambitions associated with it in everyone Contact with his environment is always just embarrassing. In addition, I never actually say anything negative - or diligently “critical” - about Stanford University, my employer and the academic “love of my life” (if you can say that in German at all). Behind this is the decision to adopt an attitude - or perhaps even an attitude - of almost absolute solidarity.

So when I report today about a “first end of the humanities” at Stanford, then this should by no means be understood as an act of protest or an expression of outrage. “If you start, you have to be able to stop,” said the great Niklas Luhmann with pleasure in adding a touch of irony to the banalities that are so common for him - and by that he meant: all phenomena that had a beginning, for example institutions, will succeed Day inevitably and irreversibly at its end. Anyone who is part or location of such an end (such as - in my opinion - Stanford in the case of the humanities) can certainly claim to be “progressive” in the literal sense of the word. In this context, I find the fascinating question of whether any educated contemporary noticed the end - or, more dramatically, death - of the humanities when it actually came to that. Who outside of the humanities would ever miss them? Such a consideration naturally implies that some of the subjects and issues with which the humanities sometimes reach audiences outside their institutional boundaries are independent of the academic world as the base of production. In other words: literature, for example, or history, would still be spoken of even if the humanities no longer existed.

But which event am I referring to when I write about a possible end to the humanities? In order to understand my little story, you have to know in what sense “college” - as an academic form of institution that actually only exists in the United States and in some places in England - differs from the modern understanding of the university that is dominant everywhere else. The four years of college between high school graduation (usually at the age of eighteen) and a practical career (or the beginning of a possible second phase of study, which is then job-oriented) are associated with a classic functional concept that works best in the German term of "education" can be grasped. Ideally, you want the college student to develop into a more complex personality through a universal program of classes and activities. Only after two years does he choose a focus (“major”) in this educational context, but even the major should not be confused with a job-related degree.

In the past decade, the traditional conceptions of the college - and especially the humanities courses - have been challenged by students who (apparently not infrequently under pressure from their parents) transfer this curriculum into a preliminary phase of vocational training. For example, if you want to study medicine or law later (which is not possible in college), it makes sense to choose “Human Biology” or “Political Science” as a major. Since, however, seminars in the humanities can hardly ever be assigned as a preliminary phase to a subsequent practical vocational training course, their attendance figures have been falling steadily for some time, and in some cases even drastically, as a result of the current “pre-occupational trend”.

This is a condensed description of the specific conditions under which an internationally renowned colleague from the Computer Science Department at Stanford spoke at a meeting of the Faculty of Foreign Language Literature a week ago. The number of majors in Computer Science, reported the professor, who is known for his humanities sympathies, has risen with such unexpected intensity over the past few years that his department now wants to counteract this tendency and is looking for relief, because otherwise, in the medium term, research and (especially with engineers ) personal business interests would also be neglected. In addition, there is concern that the realization of the college idea is no longer compatible with this new focus on computer professions. The countermeasuring suggestion of his department is therefore to make use of the structural possibility of a “major / minor” (main focus and secondary focus) as a study program: “Computer Science” (major) combined with “German Studies,” for example, with “French, ”“ Italian ”(and so on) as possible“ Minors. ”Since the total volume of lectures and seminars to be taken with a“ Major / Minor ”should hardly be higher than with a simple“ Major, ”this would mean for the Computer Science Department A certain degree of teaching relief would occur, while the literature departments would have a new and probably effective way of counteracting the threatening student decline, as the university would come a little closer to the classic college concept.

My literature colleagues enthusiastically agreed to this suggestion, and the “major / minor” described above, there is no doubt, will soon be part of Stanford's range of courses. For my part, I can understand and almost understand their enthusiasm, but I think that the final decision in this regard - from a retrospective of a not too distant future - will be seen as the beginning of a friendly end in the humanities. Because the new - and undoubtedly well-intentioned - configuration irreversibly assigns the humanities the status of a “nice sideline” (I used the English word “amenity” in the discussion last week), comparable to the teaching content of the German “adult education center” or the American "Continuing Education." This is the status of interests and activities that are supposed to make life more beautiful or even more worthwhile without being existentially in the middle - such as collecting stamps, growing orchids or tennis.

And what would be the objection to this - especially since this structural measure undoubtedly offers the greatest conceivable chance of ensuring the institutional survival of the humanities in the medium term? Should one rather continue to lure students into the world of the humanities with a promise of career opportunities, which - as we all know - are not really given? When I interpret the “major / minor” solution as a friendly end to the humanities, I am referring - nostalgically, of course - to historical moments where philosophy and literature, history, languages, music or art are at least the center of attention for a section of life of existential passions where they could increase to obsession, completely independent of the importance of their potential functions in everyday life.

All of these were, I mean, moments of intellectual intensity that will no longer occur at a time when the acquisition of third-party funding has become more important than the questions for which it should be raised; where as a humanities scholar - even at Stanford - one has become humble enough to befriend the role of the cultured and widely respected break clown.

Why do I write about this ending with so much affect? Because I believe that an end in dignity and pride (and I do not want to strain these terms too much or relativize them with quotation marks) is to be preferred to over-living on grace and on the intellectual periphery, as an existential possibility at least. Institutionally, however, the new major / minor looks like a promising solution.

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A friendly ending to the humanities?

By Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

Would educated contemporaries outside the university notice if the humanities disappeared from the institutional scene? Exactly this situation has already occurred -

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