'Don’t give up on the liberal arts,' Catholic Bishop argues

Study of the humanities in the United States has decreased by 17% over the past ten years.

'When we push the subjects that treat of meaning to the side,' Barron questions, 'are we surprised that people are finding life less and less meaningful?'

Bishop Robert Barron of Minnesota has issued a “cri de coeur [cry of the heart]” to colleges and universities: “[F]or the sake of our young people and indeed of the entire society, don’t give up on the liberal arts!”

In response to Marymount University, the first Catholic institution in Virginia, dropping most of its liberal arts majors, including Theology, Barron argued in a recent op-ed that a proper understanding of the liberal arts is imperative for the souls and mental health of young people.

Professors like Jonathan Haidt have been concerned about the growing mental health crisis in teens and young adults in connection to social media and technology.

But Barron contends that an additional cause of this crisis may lie in the prioritizing of technological progress over the liberal arts, which “exist for their own sake [and are] endowed with intrinsic value.”

Study of the humanities in the United States has fallen by 17% over the past decade as students opt for safer degree paths in business or in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), The New Yorker recently reported.

[RELATED: Nonprofit director slams ‘self-inflicted wound’ of ‘identity politics’ in English after liberal arts majors found to make less money]

While STEM fields are useful in a practical sense, studying a subject like art, music, or literature ideally “elevates the soul,” says Barron.

“[STEM fields] will … generally make our lives easier—but they won’t tell us what to do when we get to our destinations or how to live in our comfortable houses or how to fill up the time that ease of life provides.”

Barron argues that the declining appreciation of the liberal arts has a causal connection to an increase in anxiety and depression in today’s youth.

“When we push the subjects that treat of meaning to the side,” Barron questions, “are we surprised that people are finding life less and less meaningful?”

As Zachary Miller at Hillsdale College told Campus Reform, a “true liberal arts education” explores questions like “What does it mean to be a human being ... [and how] are we to order our lives toward the good, the true, and the beautiful?”

Although the liberal arts are supposed to clarify these major questions, humanities disciplines in academia have been increasingly pervaded by a leftist ideology hostile to these traditional educational values.

As Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano explains, wokeism “pushes propaganda and a political agenda that ultimately forces people into groups and pits groups against each other” and that everything “must be viewed through the lens of race, privilege, and oppression.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) previously told Campus Reform that a significant reason for “collapsing enrollments” in humanities is that fewer professors are “teaching meaningful, ‘big picture’ courses” and instead overemphasize “identity politics.”

[RELATED: ANALYSIS: Universities offer DEI degrees as students flee to traditional liberal arts colleges]

Barron laments that “[t]he reduction of society to the simplistic binary of oppressor and oppressed, the habit of thinking in broad generalities, the adoption of an antagonistic social theory—all of the baleful signs of wokeism—have led us to demonize many of the heroes of the liberal arts,” like Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and T.S. Elliot.

Despite the personal flaws of individuals that are attacked by leftists, Barron recognizes that the Western tradition is full of thinkers who have “shed intense light on the themes of love, purpose, justice, right government, God, and eternal life.”

Despite this general decline in the humanities, Gen-Z students seem increasingly interested in returning to the eternal themes Bishop Barron speaks of. With the recent spread of religious revivals across college campuses and the increasing application rates to institutions that appreciate the Western liberal arts tradition, the trend shows a growing search for, as Miller puts it, “permanent things, things that have stood the test of time.”

All relevant parties have been contacted for comment, and the story will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.