Economy will not affect enrollment in humanities courses

The economic downturn is not expected to affect enrollment in humanities courses.
Professor Stuart Palonsky discusses Virginia Woolf's novel, 'Mrs. Dalloway,' with his modern era humanities class Wednesday. Despite national concerns that humanities classes could decline because of the economy, courses at MU are not seeing any major decreases.

While concern has been expressed nationally the possible effect tough economic times will have on humanities programs, the departments at MU see no need to worry.

Some are concerned the declining economy will reduce interest in humanities courses, and therefore reduce the number of courses offered, but many departments at MU vow not to cut their programs.

"I can't speak for the other departments," Honors College Director Stuart Palonsky said. "But the number of humanities classes offered in the Honors College will not be affected."

Religious studies department chairman Robert Baum said the number of classes in the religious studies department probably will not decrease.

"We're not facing any significant reductions in staffing," he said. "The dean has asked us to ensure that we're teaching as many students as we were before."

Baum said the economy shouldn't lessen students' interest in humanities courses.

"Because of the subject matters that we deal with and the excellence of our teaching faculty, our classes are filled," he said.

Palonsky said that though courses offered won't be affected, enrollment in some classes could drop.

"One interesting trend is that schools are offering three-year baccalaureate programs, which can reduce tuition costs by up to 25 percent," he said.

These programs cut back on general education requirements, which often consist mainly of humanities courses.

Palonsky said in tough economic times, students may gravitate away from humanities classes so they can rush their degree programs and graduate quickly.

He said the subjects covered in humanities courses are no more or less relevant in times of economic crisis.

"They define who we are," Palonsky said. "This is significant at any time."

He said students should continue to enroll in humanities classes even during tough economic times.

"They help students to understand who we are and how we fit into humanity," he said.

Baum said humanities courses are helpful in preparing students for future academic endeavors.

"A field like religious studies is a wonderful preparation for a number of professions, including law, medicine and social work," he said. "There are a number of professional programs at the graduate level that religious studies provides an excellent preparation for."

In tough economic times, it may seem that students would gravitate toward majors with more concrete relation to specific jobs, but this is not necessarily the case.

Freshman English major Owen Neace said he did not take the economy into consideration when choosing his major.

"I love to write and to read," he said. "I want to just be a writer, but I know that's unlikely, so I'll probably be a teacher or an editor."

He said humanities classes, particularly English, are important because they help improve writing skills, and good writing skills are essential in every profession.

Neace said as long as humanities classes are required for completion of other majors, students will continue to enroll in them. He also said he does not think the economy will affect the interest of students in humanities classes beyond those that are required.

"It depends on the major and the person," he said. "But I don't think it will have a huge impact."

Baum said humanities classes are important in both good and bad economic times.

"They are integral to the process of teaching critical thinking, and they stretch peoples' abilities to see the world in new ways," he said. "The humanities help students explore what it means to be human, and that's an important question in all times."

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