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For the Sake of the Humanities

By Emma L. Kaneti
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

An open letter written by Harvard Ph.D. students in support of Brazil’s continued funding of sociology and philosophy programs has received signatures from over 800 institutions. The total number now exceeds 9,000, including signatures from various Harvard affiliates. The letter responds to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s tweet on April 27, which endorsed a policy initiative to cut funding to sociology and philosophy departments at public universities in Brazil.

We appreciate and sympathize with the sentiments expressed in the letter by the two Sociology graduate students, Derick S. Baum and Mo Torres. They are drawing critical attention to a serious issue. This attack on sociology and philosophy is not only a marker of Brazil’s current political climate, but also bears enormous consequences for the battle against the humanities and social sciences taking place in the United States.

In the wake of national leaders and politicians calling for the defunding of different academic departments and programs in American universities, it is clear that the humanities and social sciences are being called into question not just in Brazil but here as well. As students are pushed toward increasingly pre-professional tracks, liberal arts degrees are being devalued — deemed a waste of time and money.

As liberal arts students ourselves, however, we beg to differ.

The humanities and the social sciences advance the reaches of our collective knowledge, call into question our ways of life and most fundamental assumptions, teach us to interrogate normative social structures, and continue to strive for a more equitable and just world. Together, sociology and philosophy ask “what kind of life do we live?” and “what kind of life do we want to live?” These questions are not superfluous, nor are they unnecessarily abstract: They are increasingly important in a world that seems to be changing faster than ever and faces significant existential challenges.

The role of the academy should not be to serve pre-professional interests. Scholars and students have the serious task before them of contributing novel research across fields and passing down that knowledge for the benefit of the world. The work that professors, graduate students, and even undergraduates like ourselves put into their studies should not be trivialized.

But perhaps most importantly, defunding academic disciplines — especially those in the social sciences and humanities — threatens the freedom of speech and thought that are essential to a healthy society. That’s true across the globe. And that’s true in terms of research as well as pedagogy. As we have opined in the past, voters’ interests and concerns are influenced by their unique exposure to historical, ethical, and cultural claims. When young people are exposed to the breadth and critical scope of the liberal arts, they become engaged, thoughtful, and well-rounded citizens.

For the sake of humanity, let’s preserve sociology and philosophy.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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