CAA News Today

Despite the humanities playing a core role in higher education with strong student interest, four-year colleges and universities are increasingly relying on a part-time, untenured workforce to meet the demand. These facts, common knowledge to many professors, have been confirmed in the recently released results of the Humanities Departmental Survey, conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a consortium of disciplinary associations, including CAA.

The survey includes data collected from departments of art history, English, foreign languages, history, the history of science, linguistics, and religion at approximately 1,400 colleges and universities. It is the first comprehensive survey to provide general cross-disciplinary data on humanities departments. The results are available on the academy’s Humanities Resource Center Online.

According to the Humanities Departmental Survey:

  • Across the humanities, but especially in English and combined English and foreign-language departments, professors at four-year colleges and universities are evolving into a part-time workforce. During the 2006–7 academic year, only 38 percent of faculty members in these departments were tenured. English departments had the greatest proportion of non-tenure-track faculty (49 percent)
  • When minors are included, undergraduate participation in humanities programs is about 82 percent greater than counting majors alone would suggest. For the 2006–7 academic year, 122,100 students completed bachelor’s degrees and 100,310 completed minor degrees in the three largest humanities disciplines: English, foreign languages, and history
  • Reflecting the demands of a global economy, student interest in foreign language is strong: during the 2006–7 academic year, foreign-language departments awarded 28,710 baccalaureate degrees and had the largest number of students completing minors (51,670). Yet investment in a stable professoriate to teach and study foreign languages and literatures appears to be declining, with a significant reduction in recruitment of full-time faculty members (39 percent fewer recruitments for full-time positions in 2008–9 than hires for 2007–8) and fewer total graduate students than faculty members, the only surveyed discipline for which this was the case
  • Turnover rates among humanities faculty were low—only 2.5 percent of humanities faculty left the profession through departure, retirement, or death during the two academic years preceding the survey. Combined with recently instituted hiring freezes on many campuses, career opportunities for the next generation of scholars (there were approximately 84,000 graduate students in the surveyed fields during the 2006–7 academic year) are limited
  • Approximately 87 percent of humanities departments reported that their subject was part of the core distribution requirements at their institution

The survey results provide a snapshot of US humanities departments at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The survey covers a broad range of topics, including numbers of departments and faculty members, faculty distributions by discipline, courses taught, tenure activity, undergraduate majors and minors, and graduate students. The data provide new information about each of the disciplines; they also allow comparisons across disciplines. These data are especially important because the US Department of Education has indefinitely suspended the only nationally representative survey providing information about humanities faculty, the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty.

Several national learned societies collaborated with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to develop, field, and interpret data gathered by the Humanities Departmental Survey: the American Academy of Religion; the American Historical Association; the College Art Association; the History of Science Society; the Linguistic Society of America; and the Modern Language Association. The American Council of Learned Societies and the American Political Science Association also provided important assistance. The survey was administered by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics, which also performed the basic data analysis.

Even though the humanities disciplines represent an essential core of the liberal-arts curriculum, they have long been data deprived. The empirical data now available in the survey, along with the rich collection of information already found in the Humanities Indicators, begin to fill that gap and to establish baselines that will allow stakeholders to track trends in the future. The academy hopes that the Humanities Departmental Survey can be expanded to include additional disciplines and updated regularly, producing trend data that could be incorporated into the Humanities Indicators.

Launched in 2009, Humanities Indicators include data covering humanities education from primary school through the graduate level; the humanities workforce; humanities funding and research; and the humanities in civic life. Modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, the Humanities Indicators serve as a resource to help scholars, policymakers, and the public assess the current state of the humanities. The academy continues to update and expand the Humanities Indicators.

The academy looks forward to working with the National Endowment for the Humanities to advance this critical work. The Teagle Foundation provided support for the Humanities Departmental Survey project, and grants from the William and Flora Hewlett, Andrew W. Mellon, and Rockefeller Foundations have advanced the academy’s overall humanities data initiative.

Those who wish to receive announcements of new data and research on the humanities can subscribe to an email alert system at the Humanities Resource Center Online.


The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has posted PDFs of two response papers, from David Laurence and Robert Townsend, on its website for download.

For journalistic analyses of the project, please read Scott Jaschik’s “State of Humanities Departments” at Inside Higher Ed and Jennifer Howard’s “Humanities Remain Popular Among Students Even as Tenure-Track Jobs Diminish” at the Chronicle of Higher Education.