Press Release

New Report: The Humanities Weathered the Recession, but Still Struggle with Digital and Workforce Issues


Cambridge, MA | September 8, 2014 – How did humanities departments fare during the recent recession? How are departments coming to terms with fast-changing technologies, and preparing their students for the workforce? Today the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is releasing the results of a wide-ranging survey of 12 disciplines that offers answers to those questions and many others on the state of the humanities in higher education.

Among the key findings of the survey:

  • Despite considerable discussion in the media about the impact of the recent recession on academia in general and the humanities in particular, the results from the Academy’s second departmental survey suggest the humanities weathered the recession reasonably well in the five years after the 2007–08 academic year. The numbers of existing departments and faculty members were relatively unchanged, though the number of students majoring in the field slipped.
  • While the departments and faculty first surveyed in 2007–08 remain relatively unchanged, 6% reported they stopped awarding a degree at some level (undergraduate or graduate) in the intervening five years. A larger proportion (8%) of departments at public colleges and universities experienced the loss of a degree.
  • Contrary to perceptions that faculty avoid teaching in favor of research, about three-fourths of the students in introductory undergraduate courses were taught by full-time faculty members, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty members. And most of the students (86%) in all non-introductory undergraduate courses were taught by full-time faculty members.
  • Given growing concerns about humanities faculty members employed in contingent positions (off the tenure track or part-time), the survey finds 42% of the faculty members in surveyed disciplines were employed off the tenure track and 29% were employed part-time.
  • Women were over-represented in contingent faculty positions in disciplines with higher proportions of female faculty, but underrepresented in disciplines with the smallest shares of female faculty.
  • While digital humanities has been a growing topic online and in general media outlets in recent years, the survey found limited engagement at the departmental level. Fifteen percent of humanities departments offered a seminar or course that focused on digital methods for research or teaching during the academic year, and 12% had guidelines for evaluating digital publications for tenure and promotion.
  • While a small proportion of humanities departments appeared to be engaged with digital humanities as a scholarly enterprise, a larger portion reported that they were digitally engaged as a teaching enterprise. A third of humanities departments offered at least some fully online courses, and about one department in five offered hybrid courses (classes with both online and classroom components).
  • Most of the departments in humanities disciplines organized programs (such as internships and talks by employers) to prepare their students for careers in the workforce, and about one-third of humanities departments had a professional program in the department, for example a teacher credentialing program within a history department or a journalism program within an English department.

When combined with 2007–08 data, the 2012–13 survey report provides comparative information about two points in time for departments in eight disciplines and subfields (art history, English, history, history of science, languages and literatures other than English (LLE), linguistics, combined English and LLE, and religion) supplemented with complementary information from departments in five additional disciplines (classical studies, communication, folklore, musicology, and philosophy). The study was conducted for the Academy by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics, drawing on survey responses from 1,506 humanities departments (department response rate: 71%).

The survey was implemented and fielded with support and advice from the National Endowment for the Humanities and eleven disciplinary societies in the humanities. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the primary funder of the Humanities Indicators.






Humanities Indicators

Norman Marshall Bradburn and Robert B. Townsend