According to an Associated Press analysis of data from 2011, 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or, if they were lucky, merely underemployed, which means they were in jobs for which their degrees weren’t necessary. Philosophy majors mull questions no more existential than the proper billowiness of the foamed milk atop a customer’s cappuccino. Anthropology majors contemplate the tribal behavior of the youngsters who shop at the Zara where they peddle skinny jeans.
I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. But how many college students are fully aware of that? How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find? Not nearly enough, judging from the angry, dispossessed troops of Occupy Wall Street.
Enraged, I whipped off a response to the Times that attempted to correct some of the mistakes that Mr. Bruni made in the article. The article didn’t make it into the paper, but that’s the good news. Apparently many people had the same reaction I did and there was a flood of objections to Bruni’s piece. Here’s how I responded:
As someone who has spent much of his life promoting the humanities as a Professor of Philosophy at Molloy College on Long Island, I cannot help but be dismayed by Frank Bruni’s uninformed assault upon my discipline (“The Imperiled Promise of College”). Mr. Bruni cities a report suggesting that philosophy and anthropology majors are “among the least likely to find jobs reflective of their educational level” and then proceeds to make a snide insinuation that the best that philosophy graduates can hope for in life is a job at their local Starbucks.
What Mr. Bruni fails to realize is that while there is no specific career path for philosophy majors, the critical thinking and high-level communications skills provided by a philosophy degree at a reputable institution of higher education serves majors extremely well in whatever field they choose to enter—business, law, medicine, teaching, and government, and many others as well. Perhaps that’s the reason why there has been a dramatic rise in the number of philosophy majors at some of the best colleges and universities all around the county. At my own college, we’ve recently seen one of the largest increases in majors in the history of our institution and the vast majority of our graduates have gone on to rewarding careers where their philosophical training has proved to be an immense asset. These students obviously know something that Mr. Bruni doesn’t.
We keep hearing from business leaders that recent college graduates are ill-equipped to succeed in a highly competitive, global economy like the one in which we are living. Perhaps the reason for this is that instead of promoting disciplines in the humanities, like philosophy, which train people in precisely the kinds of skills that we desperately need to reestablish our position as a leader in the world, we resort to simplistic stereotypes that serve only to discourage students from considering such majors. That’s not only a loss for college students, but it’s a serious loss for our country as well.