Posted by: Yuval D Bar-Or on Jan 30, 2009
In a January 18 New York Times opinion piece, "The Last Professor," Stanley Fish discusses the decline of the Humanities. The primary reason cited is that students and universities are gravitating toward more "practical" subject areas that increase graduates' odds of employment.
The direction noted by Professor Fish has indeed been under way for some years, but there is another growing trend that may not be widely recognized. Those academic departments typically considered to be practical choices for gaining employment, such as business and engineering, are increasingly paying attention to a very particular skill set commonly referred to as - leadership. These same departments appear to concur with the conclusion recently voiced by Warren Bennis, a well-regarded leadership scholar, who writes: "Although we do not yet know what a theory of leadership would look like, we do know it will be interdisciplinary, a collaboration among cognitive scientists, social psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, biologists, ethicists, political scientists, historians, sociobiologists, and others." (American Psychologist Special Issue on Leadership, 2007). While this statement is made in reference to leadership theory, the practical interpretation is that (proper) leadership development must draw on an interdisciplinary approach as well.
Thus, at the risk of raising false hope for Professor Fish and his colleagues, there does appear to be growing appreciation among "practical" academic departments that those fields of study which are concerned with the human condition-the Humanities-are crucially important for leadership development. This trend has picked up steam in the midst of the economic crisis, which has been attributed to widespread leadership failure, but was well under way before the current economic crisis began.
One can only hope that as more "practical" departments realize the importance and interconnectedness of leadership and the Humanities, there will be a resurgence of respect and demand for the latter.