June 6, 2013

Harvard Addresses Concerns Over Drop in Enrollments in the Humanities

Today in a Wall Street Journal article, Dean Diana Sorenson of Harvard suggests "an anti-intellectual moment"  has influenced a drop in the number of humanities and arts-loving students doing what they love at Harvard and instead choosing majors they assume will guarantee them higher-paying jobs. With governors like Florida's Rick Scott and North Carolina's Patrick McCrory advocating that states discriminate between those choosing "useful" careers and those not by refusing to reward humanities students with government assistance, Sorenson takes a surprisingly positive response, however, saying, "...what matters to me is that we, the people in arts and humanities, find creative and affirmative ways of engaging the moment. The division [of Arts and Humanities at Harvard] needs to show what it is our work does so they don't think we're just living up in the clouds all the time."

In answer to these direct hits the Harvard humanities are taking from lawmakers, the division is launching a collaborative communication plan (The Humanities Project) to aggressively market the humanities. The project has a website (http://artsandhumanities.fas.harvard.edu/humanities-projectwhere Harvard's division of arts and humanities will upload its public reports.

"The Arts and Humanities are the realms in and through which we define values, form relationships, express our thoughts, feel, imagine, process, and create," says Sorenson on The Humanities Project website. "The study of the Arts and Humanities provides a basic toolkit for personal and professional success: how to communicate what we think; how to interpret what we read, see and hear; how to understand and respond to difference."

"Study within humanistic disciplines hones precisely the skills needed to navigate a world marked by rapid change, increasing interdependence, transformative technologies, and multimedia communications. The Arts and Humanities are unique in their potential to help students develop the skills and wisdom needed to thrive in the digitized, globalized, discovery-driven economy of the twenty-first century."

The first of these reports is available for anyone to read. You can download it here: Mapping the Future

I'm still working my way through this 66-page report myself, but so far, here is one of my favorite quotes:

Without the tradition of philological critique, we lose the capacity to be sure of the authenticity of our texts, or to see the past as different, or to critique the practice of power with historical evidence....Without the tradition of philological critique, we also lose what footholds we have to withstand the mesmerizing, often dehumanizing force of powerful institutions, whether political or commercial. All great humanistic pedagogies need to provide students with a critical, corrective voice that stands aside from, and looks beyond, the manipulative, dehumanizing forces of the present.
Someone recently asked me which was more important for future marketing and advertising students--to teach them social media and emotive techniques or to ground them in critical thinking and a history of consumerism. I chose the latter.

As I've written before, "In dealing with communication, we are dealing with a human science (some would even say, a human art). It cannot be dealt with only in a mathematical formula or pure algorithm. Every answer will inevitably create more questions for the querent." That is also the beauty of the ongoing dialogue that is marketing communication. It is our job to comprehend the connection between symbol and reality––for instance, to examine how mass communication creates or supports cultural biases. As a discipline, whether teaching production or theory, it is our role to evaluate messages, synthesize ideas, and teach students to effectively develop oral, written, and mediated messages for a wide range of audiences. We used to say that PR professionals were also the consciences of business--having their finger always on the pulse of public opinion as they did and still should today.

I believe it is the instructor’s job to help her students learn to adapt, respond, reflect, and accept responsibility regarding the infinite connections between symbol (whether word or image) and human reality and to understand and influence the patterns of thought that help us successfully negotiate our worlds. I challenge students to develop and strengthen their knowledge of the full complexity of the human communication process.

Young people entering the workforce today, according to predictions, will find themselves having to change careers several times in their lifetimes as new technologies come and go. In the 1950s, Popular Mechanics magazine predicted that by the end of the 20th Century the average computer would weigh 1.5 tons. Thank God they were wrong, but this just confirms how difficult it can be to predict tomorrow. We have to give students and young professionals the tools to, above all, adapt to the changes none of us can predict. That means understanding and interpreting history, thinking creatively, and remaining critical thinkers throughout a lifetime.

To help prove my point, I recently looked up a list of creative professionals from the Advertisers' Hall of Fame who have or are influencing marketing today and reviewed their histories of undergraduate studies. Here are some interesting findings:

Jeff Goodby graduated with a major in literature from Harvard University where he wrote for The Harvard Lampoon. 
David Kennedy studied sculpture.
Hal Riney studied art. 
Mary Wells Lawrence studied theater and drama. 
Steve Hayden studied English and Music (cello). 
Bill Bernbach majored in English but also studied business administration, philosophy and music (piano). 
Jim Riswold received three bachelors degrees, in communication, philosophy, and history.
I'll let Phil Johnson conclude for me:
"The best creative directors are sponges, absorbing subtle shifts in ideas, music, art, film and literature. They don’t imitate or copy, but rather build on these influences to create work that feels both new and relevant. Whether you start this journey as a writer or an art director, you will need a craft that lets you bring your ideas to life and make them tangible for other people." *  
*From “The Route to Creative Director Starts With a Passion for New Ideas: Cultivate Great Taste, Excellent Judgment and Some Cold-Blooded Decision Making” by Phil Johnson Published in AdAge May 31, 2013.

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