President Berman, Remember the Humanities
“Who are our graduates? Rabbis, Jewish Educators, Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, and Financial Analysts. Social Workers, and Psychologists, Mothers and Fathers, Community Leaders, and Leaders of Industries…”
In his investiture speech, President Berman laid out his vision for the future of Yeshiva University. He told us our future is bright, and I am excited to see what he will bring to the institution. His love and care and energy for the school was evident in his words, and in the emotion behind them. I believe he is a man who will always remember the weight of his responsibility, and do his best to perform the job with excellence and dignity.
And because I believe this, I would like to offer a respectful reminder to President Berman: Remember the English majors. Remember the Philosophy Majors. Remember the Art and Music and History and Political Science students.
President Berman’s vision for the future is one of job creation. His three steps - New Industries, New Markets, and New Educational Pathways - focus on manufacturing the “market-ready” student.
I do not know if I am a “market-ready” student. I believe I have learned skills in college that make me employable in my field of choice, but that is not the point. More than any specific job skill, majoring in English has given me the tools of motivation, and dedication necessary for the fight President Berman spoke of. He called on us to “Fight against indifference.” There are many ways to do so, and we risk a great loss when we forget that words have a unique power in this battle. Scientists and engineers and computer scientists have the power to fight, but so do writers and artists and poets and musicians.
Majoring in English and minoring in Writing has given me the tools necessary to understand the world as it is, and as it will be when “culture shifts, and moral intuition adjusts.” It will help me reconcile these differences with Judaism when possible, and take a stand for my beliefs when the gap grows too wide.
But more broadly, if our future is to be bright, then we must believe in education for education’s sake. We must believe that knowledge cannot be measured by a mercurial stock, that our value is not tied to the number in our bank account. We lose a critical respect for the value of education when the market’s ever changing standards become our barometer for success.
Furthermore, Yeshiva University must remain a Liberal Arts college if we are to go out into the world with “tools of critical critique, and self-reflection” - tools which happen to be particularly attainable in the humanities departments. We must, with the help of our leadership, resist fear of the economic future, a fear that has the power to turn us into nothing more than a vocational school.
None of this is to say that Yeshiva University should not expand and enrich its educational capacity. President Berman’s plan seems logical, and of course the University must provide skills for employment. But President Berman omitted the humanities from his outline of the future, and that concerns me. When we define who we are, we also define who we are not.
In the future, I hope President Berman remembers that the English majors are here too. I hope he will not be indifferent to our presence.