Letters — From the December 2013 issue

Letters

Crimes Against Humanities

Thomas Frank’s insightful lamentation about the demise of the humanities in higher education [“Course Corrections,” Easy Chair, October] notes the mammoth cost of attending college in the United States today. He neglects, however, to mention one important culprit: the precipitous decline in public funding for students. In 1987, tuition accounted for only 23 percent of the revenue brought in by public institutions of higher learning. Today, as state and federal funding has failed to keep pace with rising costs, tuition accounts for 47 percent. Making all degrees more affordable would make one in the humanities more economically viable for graduates.

Donald J. McNutt
Potsdam, N.Y.

As an admirer of Thomas Frank’s writing, I was sorry to see his reading skills on such poor display. My comment about some elected officials having “a primitive and reductive view of what is essential” was hardly a cavalier dismissal of the employment prospects of graduates; my point was that these officials do a disservice to students by failing to recognize that the humanities prepare them extremely well for a wide range of jobs and careers. Frank’s claim that I am a staunch defender of “disciplinary walls” is also incorrect. I don’t believe that interdisciplinary studies will get very far without a grounding in the particular disciplines we’re trying to bring together, but I made this observation in connection with the larger point that “we have been too timid in our interdisciplinary associations.” To this end, we at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center have developed a series of courses that aim at strengthening the connections between the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and professional schools.

Homi Bhabha
Director, Mahindra Humanities Center
Cambridge, Mass.

Foreign Exchange

As an adult adoptee who returned to his place of birth a decade ago, I believe that there are more political and economic motives for foreign adoption in the United States than Irina Aleksander allows for in her report on the Ranch for Kids in Montana [“Cold War Kids,” October]. American adoptive parents are not simply benevolent yet duped couples yearning to expand their families; they also have the tendency to act as agents of the country’s foreign-policy goals. Despite President Obama’s protestations, remnants of the Cold War still play a major role in the targeting of former Soviet republics as sources for adoptees.

The metaphor found late in the article — critically comparing an adopted child to a rambunctious puppy destined to be put down — was, for me, its most truthful trope. It is time for us to admit that foreign adoption is an alienating institution that destroys community and culture. Until we come up with a better system, it will be the children who suffer for the sins of their parents.

Daniel Ibn Zayd
Beirut

The Fourth e-State

As John R. MacArthur makes clear in his Publisher’s Letter [October], the threats posed by the Internet to venerable periodicals like Harper’s Magazine are dismaying, but technology has also been a boon to talented writers who previously had few outlets for publication. After being rejected by a string of professional publishers, I was able to get my work out fairly cheaply thanks to digital innovations. The modern age may be a thorn in the side of fine magazines like yours, but it has created opportunities for many writers.

Christopher Anderson
Seattle

I respect MacArthur’s refusal to give away the articles in Harper’s for free, and I agree that the free-content model has been a key factor in the impoverishment of American journalism, which he so eloquently laments. However, a few pages later in the magazine, there is a short notice advertising the internship opportunities at Harper’s, the final line of which reads, “Both positions are unpaid.” Shouldn’t the decision to foster a sustainable journalistic model through paid subscriptions also include a willingness to pay for the labor that goes into it?

Alex J. Ponting
Location not given

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