Net Positive

April 12, 2010

Robert N. Watson, English Professor at UCLA, argues in this article that the humanities are a winning financial proposition for universities. I don’t have the numbers to confirm his calculations, but in a way, it makes sense to me. We teach a lot of classes, we don’t demand all that much, and we insist that our students wear togas. At least, that’s what we do at CU-Boulder. Here, read for yourselves:

But, according to spreadsheet calculations done at my request by Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of the humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on the latest annual student-credit hours, fee levels, and total general-fund expenditures, the humanities there generate over $59 million in student fees, while spending only $53.5 million (unlike the physical sciences, which came up several million dollars short in that category). The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutely essential to UCLA’s educational mission, has been sent firing notices, even though the spreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3 million dollars in fee revenue, at a cost of only $2.4 million.


That isn’t an eccentric calculation. Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, recently cited a University of Illinois report showing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net profit, whereas units such as engineering and agriculture run at a loss. The widely respected Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity shows the same pattern.

One comment

  1. Yes. You can always shove another chair into a lecture hall, but not into a lab. Worse, adjuncts teach most lower level English courses. etc.

    He is right.

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