Press Releases | General Education

ACTA Condemns University of Minnesota for Killing the Humanities

Calls on Regents to Take Action
September 21, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC—Deploring the impending death of the Humanities at the University of Minnesota, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni today called upon the Regents to renew the University’s historic commitment to high academic standards in the liberal arts.

“The central mission of higher education is to offer the next generation a strong liberal education that enables them to live thoughtful lives informed by the study of the highest achievements of human civilization,” ACTA president Jerry L. Martin and vice president Anne D. Neal wrote the Regents. “At a time when Western Civilization is under attack, the University of Minnesota is reneging on this responsibility.”

Because of recent faculty actions, Minnesota will soon lose its Humanities program, a program that, in its distinguished history, included such stellar figures as Saul Bellow, Allen Tate, and John Berryman. The Humanities concentrate on the interdisciplinary study of great works of Western Civilization and other cultural traditions focusing largely on primary sources in literature, art, music, philosophy, religion and the sciences.

“The decision to kill the Humanities strikes at the core of the university’s education—and seems particularly ill-advised at a time when the very underpinnings of civilized society are under attack,” wrote Martin and Neal. “How can we expect our students to defend and support our society, if they do not understand the principles on which it was founded and the uniqueness of our system of government? Indeed, to allow the demise of the Humanities seems especially misguided when hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty are calling for the department’s reinstatement.”

Currently there is no Humanities Department or major—only a minor—and only one full-time professor. Because of Minnesota’s change to a semester system, other faculty are finding themselves without the flexibility to help outside their regular field. Meanwhile, there is little reason to believe that any Humanities faculty will remain after the one full-time professor—who is 70 years old—retires.

ACTA also decried troubling evidence that students at the University can graduate with little or no grounding in basic subjects. In a study authored by Minnesota Association of Scholars Executive Director William Meehan III, the Association examined the academic requirements at the four publicly-funded campuses of the University of Minnesota and five publicly-funded universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. Students at the Twin Cities “flagship” campus can graduate without taking courses in philosophy, foreign language, or the fine arts. Even when subjects appear to be required, fluff courses can easily be substituted. At Crookston, “University Singers” substitutes for courses in literature, history, and philosophy. At Twin Cities, students can take “Sexuality: From Perversity to Diversity” for general education credit.

“As friends of the University, we solemnly call on the Board of Regents to take time to review the curriculum, to consult with faculty, and to renew the University’s historic commitment to high academic standards in the liberal arts,” said the letter. “As America faces new terrors and attacks on its system, an understanding of our traditions and our principles has never been so important.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national nonprofit organization of alumni and trustees dedicated to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More