An article in The New Yorker caught my eye, describing how US universities have seen a noticeable decline in History majors over the past decade or so, give or take. The primary research supporting the article is from the American Historical Association and Professor Ben Schmidt of Northwestern, who found that comparing the class from 2008 and the dawn of the “Great Recession” to 2017 graduating class, the number of students across US universities declaring a History major has fallen by 33%. The impact of the economic downturn on families across the country made college aged students reassess their academic choices since they were living directly with the impacts of the brutal 2008-09 economic downturn. They essentially felt that pursuing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related pursuits would provide them more opportunity in the future.
And taking a longer view of the trend, the decline is even more pronounced as you can see in the graph below, also from Professor Schmidt. The graph may be skewed slightly because the amount of people getting college degrees has expanded a lot over the past 30 years, as has the percentage of international students who generally are more likely to pursuing STEM related pursuits. Even with that to consider, the decline is substantial.
Interestingly, a significant driver of this long term trend is the rapid growth over the same period of women on college campuses, where they now represent around 57% of all college students. Women have never had a huge percentage of History majors and that presence has declined consistently over the past 30 or so years as they too have pursued majors outside of the humanities.
The irony and interesting implied side effect of this trend is its impact on the broader population and their ability to consider what we are experiencing in our broader societal and political discourse compared to what has happened in years past.
“Yes, we have a responsibility to train for the world of employment, but are we educating for life, and without historical knowledge you are not ready for life,” [Yale Professor David] Blight told me. As our political discourse is increasingly dominated by sources who care nothing for truth or credibility, we come closer and closer to the situation that Walter Lippmann warned about a century ago, in his seminal “Liberty and the News.” “Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information,” he wrote. A nation whose citizens have no knowledge of history is asking to be led by quacks, charlatans, and jingos. As he has proved ever since he rode to political prominence on the lie of Barack Obama’s birthplace, Trump is all three. And, without more history majors, we are doomed to repeat him.
The New Yorker
I was/am a History major as an undergraduate at Syracuse University many moons ago. I am proud that my daughter will be starting college next year and she will be pursuing a degree in History. History has, and will continue to be, a very important element of my family’s experience and discourse. And as we continue to experience the rapidly escalating challenge on what is the truth in our society, the lack of understanding by the proletariat population on what has caused us to get to this point in our nation’s collective History will only accelerate the constant death spiral we seem to be riding.
There are people and talking heads that seem to claim we are in a “new normal” with new technology and new methods of communication that should not be compared to experiences of the past. I call ‘bs’ on that. Society in the US and the world has had to deal with disruptive innovation and technology for as long as we have been a going concern as a country, and even before that. Radio changed the game in the 1930s, television changed the game even more in the 1950s and really hit its stride disrupting the ‘world order’ in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and, wait for it, Watergate.
Studying History and appreciating the path that people and society have led to get to where they are today is something that all people should study at one point in their life. Looking back at certain periods of time (e.g. the 1960s), at certain circumstances (e.g. How George Washington’s decision to cross the Delaware when he did changed the fate of the United States), or at unanticipated situations (e.g. how the country’s path changed with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963) and how they impacted life and society will provide everyone with a sense of perspective that is immensely valuable during times like we are in today.
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
Today, the NCAA board voted to allow the ‘big five’ power conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10) to have more autonomy to set their own rules and regulations – basically opening the door for them to allow players to be paid and covered by insurance, to set the rules on hours dedicated to the sport of choice and the number of coaches on staff. In short, the NCAA provided the most powerful conferences with even more power and competitive advantage, and have thus have left all other schools and conferences in the dust.
I’m actually OK with the college players receiving compensation above and beyond the scholarship benefits they already receive. The rules that the NCAA has in place are amazingly outdated and onerous to the point that a plain bagel is considered a snack (and thus ok for a student athlete to eat if someone gives it to them) yet adding cream cheese to that same bagel turns it into a meal, and thus would be an NCAA violation if a student athlete accepted that as a ‘gift’ from someone.
However, the bigger concern is that this ruling has basically separated the top 5 ‘power’ conferences from the rest of the universities who play intercollegiate sports. And from that perspective, this is a pretty troubling result. It is troubling because all of these schools have been seduced by the dollars that these ‘amateur’ sports drive. Bill Snyder, the long time and well respected coach of Kansas State, took it one step further by saying everyone (his school included) has ‘sold out’ to TV at the expense of education:
“It’s no longer about education,” Snyder said. “We’ve sold out to the cameras over there, and TV has made its way, and I don’t fault TV. I don’t fault whoever broadcasts games. They have to make a living and that’s what they do, but athletics — that’s it. It’s sold out.”
“Everybody is building Taj Mahals,” Snyder said, “and I think it sends the message — and young people today I think are more susceptible to the downside of that message, and that it’s not about education. We’re saying it is, but it’s really about the glitz and the glitter, and I think sometimes values get distorted that way. I hate to think a young guy would make a decision about where he’s going to get an education based on what a building looks like.”
The importance and entertainment value of intercollegiate sports is very important to a college campus/student environment. As a Syracuse alum, some of my best memories of college centered around the basketball team, the football team (Kids, ask your parents about Floyd Little, Jim Brown, Joe Morris, Larry Csonka, Don MacPherson, and Donovan McNabb), and having a venue like the Carrier Dome on campus. To this day, going to see SU’s hoops team play is a great way to re-connect with friends from college. Yet, when these few ‘power conferences’ are given the keys to the kingdom by NCAA leadership and are driving a complete upheaval with all of this conference re-alignment, we really need to take as step back and ask “What the hell is going on here?”. That is what I would have expected the NCAA ‘leadership’ to do, but instead they have given the fox the keys to the hen house.
In the ACC today, seven of the conference’s 15 teams are former Big East teams and now the Big East conference – and the great regional rivalries – has ceased to exist as we know it. How does this make any sense? Tell me how a Syracuse – Florida State game has more relevance to their respective student bodies compared to, say, a Syracuse – UConn game or a Syracuse – Boston College game? Where each of those three schools are within a 4-5 hour drive of each other? Where students at those schools are probably far more likely to directly or indirectly know an alum from the other institutions? Isn’t part of the fun (remember when playing sports was fun!) of sports is busting on your buddy when your team beat his?
College sports has been big business for a long, long time. And the value to the campus culture beyond the sporting arena is clear. I don’t think that can be argued. Yet, the path that collegiate sports has taken to get to this point is nothing short of a shame and as Bill Snyder said in the above referenced article, “we’ve lost sight of what college athletics is all about”.
Well, according to Matthew Berry of ESPN, we are only four games into this year’s NCAA Tournament and out of 11 million submitted brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Bracket Challenge, only 5.7% of them (~627,000) remain perfect.
Once again, Mr. Buffett has made a wise investment, this time in publicity, for an extremely low risk wager.
As of Friday March 22 at 9pm EST, a grand total of 2 perfect brackets remain after LaSalle, Creighton won this afternoon. And with Florida Gulf Coast University (Florida GC! Really?) about to beat Georgetown, those lonely two will probably fall as well.
To get in the March Madness spirit, here is a video vault from the NCAA that has full games and highlights from the past ten years of the final rounds (Sweet 16 through National Championship) of the NCAA Tournament.