Variety of Forums Explored the Role of Humanities Education in the Workplace

In this look back at 40 years of Humanities Washington’s work, we focus on The Classroom and the World of Work: A Dialogue on the Purposes of Higher Education, a series of forums at the University of Washington in 1977. The forums addressed questions still being tackled today: What is the role of the liberal arts in the workplace? Should a college education be valued solely in terms of the salary it can secure?

At City College, one of the community forums held as part of the program | Photo: John E. Walker

At City College in Seattle, forum attendees discuss the relationship between the liberal arts, college and the workplace. | Photo: John E. Walker

Humanities Washington is celebrating our 40th anniversary with 40 Years of Washington Stories. Each week on Spark, we’ll offer a snapshot from our past, sharing forty years of stories that have helped shape the humanities in Washington state. A Humanities Washington grant request, submitted by the University of Washington’s Office of Undergraduate Education in 1977, began with the following quotes: “To send young men and women into today’s world armed only with Aristotle, Freud and Hemingway is like sending a lamb into the lion’s den.” – Terrel H. Bell, Former Commissioner of Education “We’re turning out highly technical and highly skilled people who are literally barbarians.” – Steven Miller, President, Johns Hopkins University The proposed project was entitled The Classroom and the World of Work: A Dialogue on the Purposes of Higher Education, which sought to answer challenging questions about college education: What is the role of the liberal arts in the workplace? Should a college education be valued solely in terms of the salary it can secure? Almost 400 people attended forums on these topics held in Seattle, Lynwood, Moses Lake and Bellevue. A different organization cosponsored the forum at each location, and the nature of the particular cosponsoring organization gave each forum a unique angle. The panel at the forum sponsored by the UW Alumni Association, for example, took a different approach to the role of higher education than did those attending the forum sponsored by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. As a whole, the series allowed for the exchange of geographically and ideologically diverse perspectives on an issue that is as pertinent now as it was 35 years ago. A recent report on the role of humanities in educated was completed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and can be viewed here.

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