Japanese Government Asks Universities to Close Social Science Faculties
September 29, 2015 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Short on time? Here are the highlights: Japan’s Minister of Education has asked all national universities to close their social sciences and humanities departments. 26 universities have so far confirmed plans to close affected faculties or convert them to "areas that better meet society’s needs"

Japan Rethinks Higher Education in Skills Push (Wall Street Journal):

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal is to transform Japan’s government-funded universities into either global leaders in scientific research or schools focused on vocational training. He has called on them to “redefine their missions” and restructure their curricula.

“Look at the business sector. They are introducing outside directors,” he [Katsushi Nishimura, a law professor who oversaw the planning process] said, referring to Japanese companies adding independent directors to their boards in response to a government push for better corporate governance. “We also need to come out of the ivory tower and listen to the real world.”

Japan’s Education Ministry Says to Axe Social Science and Humanities:

A June 8 letter from Hakubun Shimomura, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to all of Japan’s 86 national universities and all of the nation’s higher education organizations asks them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organizations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.” The call focuses on undergraduate departments and graduate programs that train teachers, and includes the areas of law and economics.
posted by Shouraku (138 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Economics is a social science. This is kind of bizarre.
posted by raysmj at 2:10 PM on September 29, 2015 [18 favorites]


I do so worry the path Japan is taking lately. With this sort of thing and their (well Abe & his party's) goal of removing the "non-offensive" military language from their Constitution, it seems a bit of a worrisome trend.
posted by symbioid at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


The human race is going to business itself into extinction.
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2015 [174 favorites]


Those who forget the past...
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:14 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


This seems like a mistake. But at least you have to admire the honesty of this move as opposed to slowly starving them to death. At least in the future we can look forward a brand new rebooted humanities when everything we know now has been forgotten. That will be exciting.
posted by bleep at 2:14 PM on September 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


“Without exception, totalitarian states invariably reject knowledge in the humanities, and states that reject such knowledge always become totalitarian.”

This Japan Times quote cited in the first article pretty much sums it up.
posted by CincyBlues at 2:15 PM on September 29, 2015 [116 favorites]


The human race is going to business itself into extinction.

The business of humanity is extinction.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:17 PM on September 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


“We also need to come out of the ivory tower and listen to the real world.”

Because corporations are so well-known for their common sense approach grounded in the real world.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


Wow. Dumb.
posted by Artw at 2:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The human race is going to business itself into extinction.

More like, engineer itself the STEM of extinction.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is just directed at public universities, is that right? My limited understanding is that Japan has a large number of private universities, so presumably the humanities might survive there, although the intended or actual effects of this policy might go beyond a simple restriction of supply. Japan experts can weigh in to educate me (despite the social-studies nature of my question) and, of course, this comment is not an endorsement of the policy in question.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2015


And as the cartoonist pointed out:

Science can tell you how to clone a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Humanities can tell you why this might be a bad idea.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [75 favorites]


If the aesthetic you are going for is "kludge interface designed by programmers," this seems like a great solution. If you want to make things that people might actually want to use, you may need some of those pesky soft sciences people.

This seems like an incredibly stupid, short-sighted move that will cause endless problems down the line. In other words, the ideal outcome of running government like a business.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:24 PM on September 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


So do Japanese universities work like the ones here, where the private ones are more expensive? Is this something where only the children of the wealthy will be able to study literature or history, for instance, and thus only the children of the wealthy will become scholars of history?
posted by Frowner at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Well, that's one way to keep right-wingers like Abe in power, I guess. You'll have fewer people to argue with your revisionist views of history and get in the way of militarism if you defund the humanities like this.
posted by thetortoise at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


For a beautiful moment...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [41 favorites]


Science can tell you how to clone a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Humanities can tell you why this might be a bad idea.


No, science has that pretty well covered too.
posted by The Tensor at 2:27 PM on September 29, 2015 [43 favorites]


On the face of it, his sounds horrible. Does that mean academic education and research in the humanities will essentially be shut down in Japan? The links in the original post are a little thin (the WSJ article is behind a paywall). Like the quidnunc kid I would love to learn more from people who are knowledgable about Japan's university system here.
posted by tecg at 2:27 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Without social sciences, how will anyone know what society needs?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2015


The Scott Walker of Japan.
posted by Dashy at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Even the equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce has come out and said this is a bad idea.
posted by JPD at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm in agreement with this. There's probably going to be many people arguing that universities aren't about jobs, but the universities are graduating students in programs that are placing them in debt and where the program bears little relevancy to being hired by employers. What does Japan and other countries do with the students that pursued social sciences programs? For every post decrying the cuts to universities, there's a post complaining about how students are deeply in debt and with degrees that don't help them enter the workforce. I'm not saying the social sciences and humanities degrees aren't valuable, but if I'm an employer, I'd be looking for the skill sets I need to make my job run efficiently. And if Japan is concerned with using its resources wisely, then it may view money spent on social sciences and humanities as leisure activities rather than as investment activities.
posted by DetriusXii at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think this is a pretty great idea and wish other countries would do the same, but I'm an acolyte of C'thulu so maybe not the best judge.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [29 favorites]


This is nuts. The population decrease is real, and the universities would need to figure out a way to deal with dramatically lower enrollments, but this is just bananas.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2015


In the 21st century we don't burn books, we defund stewards of knowledge because we don't like their dangerous liberal ideas.
posted by polymodus at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2015 [59 favorites]


Without social sciences, how will anyone know what society needs?

Let the market decide, obviously.
posted by The Tensor at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Does that mean academic education and research in the humanities will essentially be shut down in Japan?

I don't think so. This only seems to apply to national universities.

There are 3 kinds of universities in Japan:

National universities
Public prefectural/local universities
Private universities

I believe this only affects the first group, although of course individual prefectures could make the same decision.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:31 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


"People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors." - Edmund Burke
posted by entropicamericana at 2:32 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I honestly do not know what to do with this information. It's inconceivable.
posted by allthinky at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


but if I'm an employer, I'd be looking for the skill sets I need to make my job run efficiently.

This mentality is at the root of a lot of the dysfunction in the labor market today. Perhaps instead of demanding that society provide you with the people who have the skills you need, you could instead invest in developing them yourself.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2015 [124 favorites]


There's probably going to be many people arguing that universities aren't about jobs, but the universities are graduating students in programs that are placing them in debt and where the program bears little relevancy to being hired by employers.

But wouldn't this suggest that there are lots of unfilled jobs and employers just can't find the right people because they haven't been trained? That's not the case, is it? And if it were, surely at least some of those employers could train, say, a literature major to do entry level work in their field. I know you can't make a structural engineer out of a French major, but surely you can make a junior claims processor out of a history BA.
posted by Frowner at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


if I'm an employer, I'd be looking for the skill sets I need to make my job run efficiently.

Aren't, I dunno, reading and writing included in those "skill sets"?
posted by allthinky at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


For some context:

Japan has 778 universities, almost all of which are private.

This request potentially impacts just the national universities - 86 in total.

Of those 86, only 60 have humanities departments.

Only 26 have indicated that they plan to close their programs.

As I understand it, almost no one goes into graduate school in Japan in a non-STEM field unless they are going into academia.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [63 favorites]


I mean, if the fundamental problem is lack of decent jobs, training people for the job market just means bigger barriers to entry, since now all the entry-level widget marketers absolutely must have a degree in widget marketing.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on September 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Thank you NotMyselfRightNow. This gets presented as "Japan is shutting down all humanities" when that is really not the case.

As I understand it, almost no one goes into graduate school in Japan in a non-STEM field unless they are going into academia.

Well, law school would be another exception.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:37 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article from the Financial Times seems call this a translation error of a minor bureaucratic matter instead of a systematic dismantling of Japan's humanities education.

Is there anyone here with that can reconcile this report with all the others posted here?
posted by fleurry at 2:38 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Elsewhere, the following has been noted:

Two of Japan’s top colleges, Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo, have refused to comply with Shimomura’s request.
posted by PandaMomentum at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


... the universities are graduating students in programs that are placing them in debt and where the program bears little relevancy to being hired by employers.

The problem with higher education caused by focusing too much on money at the expense of ensuring that students are actually gaining understanding and critical thinking skills will not be solved by focusing MORE on money at the expense of ensuring that students are actually gaining understanding and critical thinking skills.

Higher education systems all over the first world have been crippled by their transformation from education services into job training services. They are putting out graduates who are less capable of doing meaningful work because immediate job training is not the thing that most helps you do a job well. You need to learn how to interpret, contextualize, and synthesize information while developing solutions. You need insight. You need to understand the past to avoid stumbling back into it. All of these are things that social sciences teach very effectively. I don't see how any person with a functioning brain can possibly believe that eliminating all the things that aren't immediate job training is going to HELP. (Of course, the people in charge of these changes know they won't help to make smarter, more capable graduates, and that's probably a lot of the motivation behind them.)
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2015 [27 favorites]


Was just discussing this over lunch yesterday with my colleagues. We're opening a brand new faculty of international social sciences next year at a private university with an interdisciplinary program bringing together economics, law, business management, and area studies in which all students must study abroad. The Nikkei newspaper recently asked our president about these policies, and he clearly opposed them saying essentially we'd be happy to take students away from the national universities.

Frowner, yes private universities are more expensive, but nowhere near what it costs in the States. All four years tuition and fees where I am teaching is about equivalent to one year tuition at a similarly ranked private university on the US.

National universities are prestigious and more affordable, but have also been under attack for years becoming quasi public corporations and having their funding cut back. At the same time, the endless call to push public universities into the top 100 internationally never lets up. I taught at a national uni for four years and every single faculty meeting was liberally sprinkled with the terms "rankings" and "global" between discussions of budget cuts. This is nothing new.

For additional detail, see Japanese University Humanities and Social Sciences Programs Under Attack. There will be a lot of turmoil in the next 10-20 years as entire universities shut down or merge under demographic pressure. Some of the changes will be bad, but some universities are attempting to get out of the trap by offering new and better programs. Time will tell.

The Abe government is terrible, but this is hardly the worst of their proposals or policies.

And, on preview, what NotMyselfRightNow wrote. This is about a very small, but visible slice of higher education in Japan.
posted by Gotanda at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


@NoxAeternum: Fair enough, but I could also be consistent that if social sciences and humanities were important, then the student can pursue the degree themselves without state funding of the degrees. I also agree that employers are also using state funding to outsource their training programs rather than training employees up themselves. Municipalities governments have tried training their employees, but the trained employees just end up leaving to somewhere else after they receive their certifications. Employers should pay their employees higher wages if they're concerned about their employees leaving though.

@Frowner: I agree there's an overemphasis on certifications on job resumes that creates a barrier to entry. Maybe the government needs to step in to the labour market more to regulate this type of job discrimination.

What the government does with the students that are graduating with degrees from the social sciences and humanities that aren't employed and are in debt? Polytechnic schools decide their offered programs based off community demand for the programs. Why are universities, which use tax dollars, somehow immune to criticism on whether university programs serve the community?
posted by DetriusXii at 2:49 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Why are universities, which use tax dollars, somehow immune to criticism on whether university programs serve the community?

Why are businesspeople so confident that only science (and of course business) degrees "serve the community"?
posted by languagehat at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2015 [93 favorites]


It's Facebook, but FWIW here is a clarification from someone at MEXT (cited in the Kingston article I linked above).
From the post: Merely one sentence of the long guideline may be accused of the misunderstanding: “With regard to the programs of teacher training, and humanities and social sciences in particular, it is encouraged to stipulate a reform plan, taking into consideration the reduction of 18-year-old population, human resource demands, expected level of education and research, the roles of national universities and etc., and dismantle and restructure organisations based on social needs”. Some may wonder why the ministry used the word “dismantle”. Well, this word is particularly reserved for irregular programs in teachers college, collectively called “shinkatei” whose purpose is not necessarily teacher training. Many of the teachers colleges in national universities created “shinkatei” and transferred a part of their student capacity to it largely because of the relative abundance of teachers in the late 1980s. Now that some regions may suffer from teacher shortage, the ministry intends to place these teachers colleges back on track so that they concentrate on teacher training.
posted by Gotanda at 2:57 PM on September 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't know whether to laugh or cry...
posted by Monkeymoo at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2015


raysmj: Economics is a social science. This is kind of bizarre.

I do remember one wag pointing out that England produced reams of economists and had a shit economy, while Germany produced hardly any economists and had a great economy.

To play devil's advocate: University social sciences do serve to suck up potential radicals and get them on a "safe" path, channeling their radicalism into publishing obscure journal articles and suffering postdoc anxiety. It'll be interesting to see if this leads to the rise of popular public left-wing intellectual radicals in Japan, people who otherwise would've gone to university.

I.e.: How might this backfire?
posted by clawsoon at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't buy that this is a misunderstanding over one sentence. Presumably the Science Council of Japan and the president of Shiga University know how to read. I do think it's probably of a piece with the dismantling of public universities worldwide. University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are among the best universities in the world, in part because of their commitment to humanities as well as STEM. It's like if Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Madison in the U.S. all received a federal letter telling them to reconsider funding the humanities. I would also expect that to make world news.
posted by thetortoise at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why are businesspeople so confident that only science (and of course business) degrees "serve the community"?

@languagehat: Usually, it's because someone else is giving science and business degrees money for the knowledge they obtained. People graduating from the STEM fields usually enjoy low unemployment rates compared to the employment rates of people graduating from the humanities and social sciences. Can you provide an alternate definition of "serving the community" that's something which can be measured?
posted by DetriusXii at 3:19 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why are businesspeople so confident that only science (and of course business) degrees "serve the community"?

And there is good reason to question the value of applied degrees, like business. In a study of critical thinking skills - those "soft skills" employers claim to want - business and other applied job-oriented majors changed less over the course of their education than traditional academic majors.
posted by jb at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


People graduating from the STEM fields usually enjoy low unemployment rates compared to the employment rates of people graduating from the humanities and social sciences.

This wasn't true when I last looked at employment statistics from the University of Toronto. Engineers were less likely to be employed than philosophers.
posted by jb at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I love how the ageing population is used as justification for this. Last I looked, population studies was firmly entrenched in the social sciences and humanities.
posted by satoshi at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm at work and don't have time to read this article, but the news I read a week or two ago seemed to indicate this affected 26 out of 86-116 or so universities and that it wasn't all gov't universities, I also heard that some of the big ones were rebelling.
posted by furtive at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


MAJIDE! BAKA DAYO!
posted by nikoniko at 3:23 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, it may be more than a mistranslated sentence but its not "JAPAN IS SHUTTING DOWN ALL HUMANITIES". Its a relatively small effect. It may well be a negative one (does seem like it to me) but I think this is largely getting blown out of proportion.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2015


Usually, it's because someone else is giving science and business degrees money for the knowledge they obtained. People graduating from the STEM fields usually enjoy low unemployment rates compared to the employment rates of people graduating from the humanities and social sciences. Can you provide an alternate definition of "serving the community" that's something which can be measured?

I don't think you're measuring what you think you're measuring. Working African slaves to death on New World plantations also generated money in exchange for a particular person's skills and effort, for example, but is not what the rest of us would think of as a case of serving the community.
posted by XMLicious at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


Also, this cockamamie idea has been floating around the good ole US of A for a while now. You best believe that certain powerful sectors of our society would love to get rid of all public funding for the social sciences.

ALSO, I haven't read the article yet. *bows deeply and exits room
posted by nikoniko at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2015


and where the program bears little relevancy to being hired by employers.

Not to be a humanities pedant, but "bears little relevance to." I could make the whole sentence more concise, but that just seems mean-spirited.
posted by listen, lady at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


Humanities and social sciences provide a better education than many vocational programs like business. Compare test performance between philosophy and business majors on any test you like.

GRE scores by college major
MCAT scores by college major
GMAT scores by college major (PDF, scroll down)
LSAT scores by college major
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:30 PM on September 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure that "does well on standardized test" is the best measure of "provides a better education" (and its more complicated anyway, as that shows math majors do better on LSAT than law majors, for example).

I mean, I think the humanities are important so I'm not disputing that, but most people don't even take the GREs (and almost no one in Japan does, obviously).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Avery Morrow wrote a fairly in-depth blog post about this.
posted by No-sword at 3:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I agree, but it's a quick fix of quantification for people who think that a program is "better" if it's named the same thing as a job.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:37 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


In the US, one big problem is that a lot of vocational majors are kind of bullshit. In a lot of instances, the things they teach aren't particularly useful or relevant, and most employers assume that new employees will learn those skills on the job anyway. So students decide to major in business or health studies because those things sound practical to them, their parents, and the state legislature, but they would really be better off in a real discipline that would develop their thinking and communication skills, rather than learning watered-down, often irrelevant or out-of-date job skills. Another option would be an apprenticeship program, where they would learn job skills from within the industry and which generally provide much better vocational training than bullshit university programs do.

I have no idea whether that's what's going on in Japan, though.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:37 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I liked this Noah Smith article on the goings on...

He links the domestic politics to the larger geo-politics of the region.
posted by stratastar at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2015


I actually attempted to do some Japanese-language research on this when I first heard about it a couple weeks ago. Japan's education ministry definitely seems to be advocating for less humanities education and more practical vocational training, but that seems like a longer-term thing. What's happening right now, in the short term, is what Gotanda posted: the programs that are being closed are education programs that don't result in a teaching credential. (These are basically for students who major in 'Education' as a 'easy generalist liberal-arts degree' with no intention of going into teaching). Or: go read the post that No-sword just linked to. It's definitely not as bad as has been reported in the English press (and I WEEP over how often major translation errors just get uncritically reprinted...) but it's not great either.
posted by Jeanne at 3:40 PM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


So basically: the government has it in for the liberal arts, but that doesn't mean that it's actually such a bad thing that these particular programs are being closed. An ideal outcome would be that they would be replaced by rigorous liberal arts programs, and that's definitely not going to happen. Something like that?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:43 PM on September 29, 2015


Can you provide an alternate definition of "serving the community" that's something which can be measured?

I mean, I guess we could debate the relatively utility of scholarship in linguistics on brain science and behavior, library sciences on information curation and availability, history on politics and diplomacy, anthropology on pretty much anything, and so on and and so forth, as opposed to some quantity on a balance sheet somewhere. But I feel like that's kind of leaning into JAQ-off territory.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:44 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, my wife says that the reporting in the Japanese media is very different on this. Of course, that could be for lots of reasons, but I'm so used to seeing bad reporting on Japan in the English language media that I'm certainly not going to trust that more.

(Basically, like Jeanne says, it's a much smaller thing than the way its being reported here)
posted by thefoxgod at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Walker and several other American state mis-Governors are right now thining "Great idea! Why didn't I think of that first?"

Economics is a social science.
No, as I have stated before (earlier today, in fact), Economics is a pseudoscience... the Social Sciences equivalent of Astrology.

I just wonder how many Social Science graduates are employed by the megacorporations doing "Social Media"... I mean, ABOVE the level of Data Entry.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:54 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Misremembered, I think he tweeted some thoughts about domestic politics and university political blocks a while back, and I can't find it now.

I can't read this. Does it says that they have reduced the decision even further to just education schools?
posted by stratastar at 3:55 PM on September 29, 2015


I saw this news at the same time as I noticed the commercials promoting Japan as a world business partner (in STEM fields, obvs). Sigh.
posted by dhens at 3:56 PM on September 29, 2015


The last thing a plutocracy wants is an educated work force.
posted by notreally at 3:56 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I can't read this. Does it says that they have reduced the decision even further to just education schools?

I'm pretty sure its saying the same thing Jeanne's post said. (Clarifying intent and scope of policy).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:59 PM on September 29, 2015


Can you provide an alternate definition of "serving the community" that's something which can be measured?

So money is your measurement? imo, that which contributes most to the betterment of the world is immeasurable and more often than not, undervalued.
posted by futz at 4:00 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


My pet theory is that the growth of business degrees are why we as a species cannot think any longer than the next quarter's results. We're driving the ecosystem to hell in a handbasket, but by golly we are going to meet the sales targets while doing it!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


No, as I have stated before (earlier today, in fact), Economics is a pseudoscience... the Social Sciences equivalent of Astrology.

Just because some branches of economics rely on models that don't always predict outcomes correctly and some people confuse economic theory with their own prejudices doesn't make it a pseudoscience. It's as legitimate as psychology, a field it shares a fair amount of conceptual territory with: behavior, incentives, decisions, preferences, benefit-cost, and the like. That is social science (and it "benefits the community" to study).

but hey, I'm just a soc sci grad who's traipsed through careers in urban planning, economics, and organizational management, so
posted by psoas at 4:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


Liberal arts programs in Japanese universities are already...okay? (I did a year at Nagasaki University back in 2002, so I'm not super qualified to speak on the subject, but apparently I'm more qualified than some of these reporters yelling about how the sky is falling!) Japanese liberal arts programs have a well-earned reputation for easiness, at least outside the very elite universities like Tokyo University -- lots of my classmates texted all through their classes -- they're certainly easier than the elite US universities, but Nagasaki U was probably on par with the middle-to-lower tier of US public universities. I think the arglebargle about liberal arts being insufficiently rigorous and practical is basically the same arglebargle that we get in the US, and with the same cause: the economy is bad, especially for new graduates, and there's some fantasy that those hapless liberal arts students could be turned into STEM students with good jobs (a proposition which I find dubious).

Closing those particular education programs seems like a reasonable thing, overall. I doubt that rhetoric will carry over into any momentous decisions about closing down humanities and social science departments on a larger scale -- I doubt it, but I do worry about the rhetoric.
posted by Jeanne at 4:17 PM on September 29, 2015


This seems like the next step in a long-term plan to replace humans with robots.
posted by Brian B. at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2015


I'm all for replacing me w a robot as long as I still have the option to sit around talking about books all day.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:29 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


@languagehat: Usually, it's because someone else is giving science and business degrees money for the knowledge they obtained. People graduating from the STEM fields usually enjoy low unemployment rates compared to the employment rates of people graduating from the humanities and social sciences. Can you provide an alternate definition of "serving the community" that's something which can be measured?

On first glance this paragraph may look utterly clueless and oblivious to the world outside a .qbw file, but it sounded a lot better in the original binary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:39 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


From Noah Smith's article:
If that is true, it means that sweeping policy changes, which will affect the entire economic and social structure of the nation, are being made by junior officials via an unaccountable and opaque process.
Isn't this how all modern industrial democracies work?
posted by infinitewindow at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2015


This seems like a terrible idea to me but it's all rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic unless they figure out their demographic time bomb. I suppose torpedoing your university system is easier than contemplating getting over centuries of racism and xenophobia and allowing mass immigration or alternatively promoting unprecedented pro natalist policies.

But instead lets just stop people from studying history. I'm sure that will solve it.
posted by Justinian at 5:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


But instead lets just stop people from studying history. I'm sure that will solve it.

Of course, that's not at all whats happening. Of course, your previous statement is pretty uninformed too, so I guess thats not surprising.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


thefoxgod: "Yeah, my wife says that the reporting in the Japanese media is very different on this. Of course, that could be for lots of reasons, but I'm so used to seeing bad reporting on Japan in the English language media that I'm certainly not going to trust that more."

Springboarding from this (I know you already realize this, thefoxgod, but for other MeFites): If you read an article about Japan and your first reaction is "WTF?!" then your second reaction should be "Oh, wait, never mind, it's an article about Japan. Lemme double-check at MetaFilter."

Also, as for the media in Japan thing: the media in Japan is less adversarial than it is in the US, where it is completely obvious which political party each news show favors, but that seems to often be interpreted by MeFites as meaning that the Japanese media is some kind of puppet media that never reports on things that make the government look bad. That is not true. My son (who is in fourth grade) said that during recess yesterday the students had an anti-war demonstration (which I believe means they all chanted anti-war slogans), and he proclaimed "Abe is the worst". He didn't get that from my wife or I (we almost never talk politics at home), but, I suspect, he got it from the media zeitgeist about Abe's constitutional changes and reporting on anti-war protests. The Japanese media loves to report on bad governmental decisions, they're just non-partisan and tend to focus on single issues, not systematic problems, so the lack of reporting on this, a definitely specific issue, is more a matter of the issue not being quite as wide-sweeping as English reporting is making out, and less a matter of the media not calling out the government.
posted by Bugbread at 5:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Justinian: "But instead lets just stop people from studying history. I'm sure that will solve it."

What Abe's government doing with the humanities is, I think, unwise. You don't need to build it into a huge strawman to attack it.
posted by Bugbread at 5:23 PM on September 29, 2015


thefoxgod, rather than just going "nyah nyah" a bunch how about linking to some stuff that tells us what's actually happening. Since all the links that are actually in the OP agree that, yes, it's about completely axing the humanities.

I mean, I can only go by what's actually in the articles and they are unambiguous.
A recent survey of Japanese university presidents found that 26 of 60 national universities with social science and humanities programmes intend to close those departments during the 2016 academic year or after.
posted by Justinian at 5:23 PM on September 29, 2015


Did you read the thread? There have in fact been quite a few already posted. These articles are mostly wrong. Jeanne's comment is a good start, and the article linked by stratastar.

If you want good English-language coverage in newspapers you are not going to find it.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's unfortunate. The english-language thing.

But stratastar's link includes lines such as:
Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law.
I don't see how we can read that as anything but a direct assault on studying the humanities. Sure, the article goes deeper into the reasoning beyond JAPAN HEARTS STEM which I appreciate, but at base whatever the reasoning it is confirming the facts.
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2015


Oh, I note from my own googling that the Universities of Kyoto and Tokyo have refused to go along with this, and those are Japan's two top universities AFAIK. So that's something.
posted by Justinian at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2015


Sorry I meant this one, which is of course in Japanese. Gotanda posted a translation of a similar article as a Facebook link.

English language coverage of Japan is almost universally bad, unfortunately. Of course, the reverse is true too (Japanese language media's portrait of the US is often quite unrecognizable to me).

But in no way is this "lets just stop people from studying history". The most extreme reading is that 26 universities out of hundreds have been asked to shut down their department. The reading I see in some of the Japanese-language media is closer to what Jeanne talked about with respect to specific programs.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:33 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "thefoxgod, rather than just going "nyah nyah" a bunch how about linking to some stuff that tells us what's actually happening."

Unless you're a Wikipedia editor who is a stickler for No Original Research, there's a bunch of stuff right here, in this thread:

This comment by NotMyselfRightNow

This comment by fleurry links to a Financial Times explanation that other MeFites have indicated they found useful (for me, I just get a paywall, so I can't see what it actually says).

This Facebook comment linked by Gotanda

This comment by Jeanne

And stratastar links to a Japanese article which says that the Ministry notice was only intended to apply to teaching programs which offer non-certificate degrees, but the person who wrote the notice was not a good writer. And, boy, I have translated a shitload of stuff by organizations which are incapable of writing clear and unambiguous documents, so while I cannot categorically state that this claim is true, it certainly wouldn't surprise me.
posted by Bugbread at 5:43 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think you're measuring what you think you're measuring. Working African slaves to death on New World plantations also generated money in exchange for a particular person's skills and effort, for example, but is not what the rest of us would think of as a case of serving the community.

Well maybe you wouldn't think that way if not for those pesky humanities
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:46 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And stratastar links to a Japanese article which says that the Ministry notice was only intended to apply to teaching programs which offer non-certificate degrees

But so should this be interpreted as a foot-in-door stratagem that enables future sweeping anti-liberal changes, or not? I mean, instead of closing them they could have just as equally offered more funding to help reform these public programs. This is the type of politicking and rhetoric that one might find disturbing, inside or outside of Japan.
posted by polymodus at 5:50 PM on September 29, 2015


>>It's Facebook, but FWIW here is a clarification from someone at MEXT (cited in the Kingston article I linked above).

From the post: Merely one sentence of the long guideline may be accused of the misunderstanding: “With regard to the programs of teacher training, and humanities and social sciences in particular, it is encouraged to stipulate a reform plan, taking into consideration the reduction of 18-year-old population, human resource demands, expected level of education and research, the roles of national universities and etc., and dismantle and restructure organisations based on social needs”. Some may wonder why the ministry used the word “dismantle”. Well, this word is particularly reserved for irregular programs in teachers college, collectively called “shinkatei” whose purpose is not necessarily teacher training. Many of the teachers colleges in national universities created “shinkatei” and transferred a part of their student capacity to it largely because of the relative abundance of teachers in the late 1980s. Now that some regions may suffer from teacher shortage, the ministry intends to place these teachers colleges back on track so that they concentrate on teacher training.


This is really puzzling. As much as I respect Jeff Kingston's work, I don't think he's done a great job (and he has ideological reasons for it; a lot of non-Japanese research on Japan is dominated by, quite frankly, hard-left academics with a particular agenda; the publication Japan Focus is a prime example of this) explaining the nuances of what the Japanese government is attempting to achieve.

The policy has been introduced in a weird way, and perhaps it is the first step down a totalitarian road, but on the other hand Japan's post-secondary system is in need of an overhaul.

Overall student numbers are declining, and there are a number post-secondary institutions (none of them, I admit, national universities) in the regions that are really low, low quality.

This has been an interesting and informative thread, though, and I'm glad I stopped by!
posted by Nevin at 5:50 PM on September 29, 2015


I mean, instead of closing them they could have just as equally offered more funding to help reform these programs.

As I referenced in my comment above, post-secondary programs in Japan are generally under-subscribed. That is, there are not enough students and too too many programs. It's a combination of population decline, an economic system that doesn't necessarily require one to complete college to get a job in the provinces and massive, massive investment in schools over the past twenty years as part of "stimulus spending."

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Japan doesn't really have a prominent liberal intelligentsia anyway like there is in, say, the United States.
posted by Nevin at 5:53 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But so should this be interpreted as a foot-in-door stratagem that enables future sweeping anti-liberal changes, or not?
I think that, at the very least, we have to view that as a real question, not a rhetorical one. I think this is one of those instances where it's really easy for those of us without much perspective on a place to read something through the lens of our own preoccupations. And as someone who works at a university where the liberal arts are well and truly under governmental assault, it's hard for me not to assume that's what's going on here. But that doesn't mean it is what's going on here. It may really be that the government, whatever their fucked up views on the value of non-STEM education, is trying to get rid of some weird non-education programs in education schools that don't make much sense at this point.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:56 PM on September 29, 2015


polymodus: "But so should this be interpreted as a foot-in-door stratagem that enables future sweeping anti-liberal changes, or not? I mean, instead of closing them they could have just as equally offered more funding to help reform these public programs."

I don't think it should be interpreted that way, no. Abe may be opposed to using federal tax money to fund humanities programs. I don't know. But even there, that's very different from wanting to shut down humanities learning. There are tons of prefectural and private universities who would love to take up the slack, and I've seen nothing, neither in Japanese reporting or in badly translated and misleading English reporting, which indicates that Abe would have any designs on humanities outside nationally funded universities.

Does that make it a good thing? No. But there's a big difference between "I don't want to spend national funds on X" and "I don't want X to even exist." Perhaps the problem is that in the US "I don't want to spend national funds on X" is used as secret code for "X should be outlawed / gotten rid of," so people are automatically interpreting it as that?
posted by Bugbread at 6:00 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But so should this be interpreted as a foot-in-door stratagem that enables future sweeping anti-liberal changes, or not?

The door is already open. The Anpo legislation was rammed through parliament using cloture. The real danger of the Anpo legislation is not that little Japanese tanks and kamikazes attack China and Korea.

The frightening thing about Anpo is that it has effectively destroyed the Japanese Constitution. I'm no constitutional scholar, but everything about it is supposed to be prohibited according to Article 9.

Yet, the legislation was passed, and it seems unlikely there will be a real Constitutional challenge.

What this means is that Japan's Constitution is effectively meaningless. Where do we go from here?

In regards to a liberal intelligentsia that is educated by humanities programs at national programs, and somehow safeguards liberal, civil society in Japan, I don't think that's the way Japan works.

The hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated against the Anpo were not led by "liberal thought leaders" from academia or public intellectuals.

They were largely self-organized, with a lot of help from the Japanese Communist Party. The demonstrators were NEETS, retirees, members of the counter culture and affiliates of the Japanese Communist Party.

The really really interesting thing about Japan at the moment is that there is no effective "center-left" opposition in Parliament (the Diet).

The only coherent opposition has been the JCP, and they have taken advantage of this vacuum brilliantly.

A year and a half ago in the unified national / local elections, the JCP elected someone in every part of Japan for the first time in their history. They have moved from being a Kansai movement to a national grassroots movement.

It's going to be interesting to see what they do in the 2016 elections. Presumably the DPJ and the rightwing populist movement will still be in disarray.
posted by Nevin at 6:05 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Based on a cursory Google search, in 2005 humanities students in Japan were 67% women, while 25% of science students were women and only 10% of engineering students. I think it's worth noting that the disciplines that are being devalued also happen to be the ones that are at best popular with women and at worst not actively hostile towards them.

Not that this is the entire or even partial motivation for the change, but it seems like a pretty unfortunate result.
posted by jess at 6:07 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]



if I'm an employer, I'd be looking for the skill sets I need to make my job run efficiently.

Aren't, I dunno, reading and writing included in those "skill sets"?


If almost every person I have ever worked with is representative, no.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:12 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread was a roller coaster, for sure. Anyway, from an American perspective, I work with some folks who have dual appointments in the English department. They're still doing pretty brisk business, but it's largely as a supplementary position doing 101 comp classes and interdisciplinary courses. Majors are on a decline, presumably because of intense economic pressure to go into "marketable" fields.

I've thought about the STEM / humanities antimony before, and I agree with the point jess raises, that humanities are often feminized fields, and feminized fields have a long history of being given economic short shrift. Alongside that, communication, language, social science and cultural critique are all incredibly important aspects of obtaining and exercising power in a world that's dominated by information technology. Therefore the skills of manipulating language, if worrying trends continue, will be mastered by students who can afford to major in fields that don't have immediate economic benefits. Especially so if it means state schools cutting back on humanities programs to meet demand. There's dual pressure coming from reduced humanities funding, which is also biting into the research side of the research / service / teaching workload for professors.
posted by codacorolla at 6:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


if I'm an employer, I'd be looking for the skill sets I need to make my job run efficiently.

This is not how Japan works, sorry. That is, you can't look at postsecondary education in Japan through an American lens. Hiring practices and career paths are different.
posted by Nevin at 6:19 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


...Man, what a strange story. Which led to me doing more research. Relevant articles (in Japanese) are here and here.

In June, MEXT (the Ministry of Education) published a report on "A general revision of the organization and work of national universities." This included the sentence which caused all of the uproar, suggesting that in particular programs in the fields of education, humanities, and social science should be either abolished or "changed to proactively deal with fields with high demand in society." Okay, sounds pretty extreme, right? Well -- you can't even blame this on the English translation. Apparently "should be abolished" was only meant to apply to education programs -- or specifically, education programs with no requirement to get a teaching certificate. (This is what I referred to in an earlier comment -- education programs that essentially work as easy generalist liberal-arts degrees.) But if that's what they meant ... I mean, I'm not 100% fluent in Japanese, but it seems like a very ambiguous sentence to me, and I think most people reading the sentence in Japanese would think it referred to humanities and social science programs more generally.

Which is how you get the Science Council of Japan and university professors putting out editorials and press releases saying how the government shouldn't disrespect humanities and social science education. So MEXT has been running around doing the press circuit trying to explain that's not what was meant, that they do need to look at whether humanities departments are too specialized or parochial or too walled-off from each other and that universities should be looking at whether certain programs should be reorganized. Shimomura, the education minister, admitted that it was a really bad sentence and the report shouldn't have gone out like that.

This all seems a little weird to me. Did they intentionally put out a report that could be read as hostile to humanities programs to kind of float it as a trial balloon but still leave themselves the option of walking back from it? Was somebody just really careless about what they were writing? In all of this, it's really vague and unspecified just what kind of reforms they're looking for from humanities and social science programs.

An article in Mainichi has this splendid paragraph:

"Oonishi [the president of the Science Council of Japan] told the press corps that he accepted the [MEXT] bureau chief's explanation, saying 'the need for reform is just as he says,' but added, 'no matter how many times I read the report, that's not what I understood.'"
posted by Jeanne at 6:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


These are from a few years ago, but I think are illuminating none the less.

“Higher Education and the Japanese Disease,” Kariya Takehiko, Nippon.com, 16 April 2012

“University Reform and the New Basic Act on Education,” Yuki Akio, Id., 24 April 2012

Cf.

“Japan’s Deepening Social Divides,” Yamada Masahiro, Id., 03 August 2012

“Japanese Women Face Tough Reality in Work and Marriage,” Kawaguchi Akira, Id., 20 August 2015

“The Plight of Japan’s Single Mothers,” Akaishi Chieko, Id., 24 August 2015

“In the Shadow of Abenomics, Japan's Poor and Elderly Are Being Left Behind,” Chikako Mogi, Takako Taniguchi, and Katsuyo Kuwako, Bloomberg, 05 February 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 6:28 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jeanne: "Did they intentionally put out a report that could be read as hostile to humanities programs to kind of float it as a trial balloon but still leave themselves the option of walking back from it? Was somebody just really careless about what they were writing?"

The stuff written by government ministries is generally well-written, but MEXT's reaction smells of "poorly written text" and not "crypto-text". Especially because it comes down to one or two sentences. A trial balloon would contain a lot of vague sentences throughout.

Also, (and, again, considering I'm now talking about the hypothetical "shutting down all national university humanities" thing instead of the actual "shutting down non-certificate teacher courses" thing), I think MeFites are thinking really in terms of what a humanities major in the West consists of. Looking at ob1quixote's first link, 53% of Japanese university students spend less than 3 hours a week on study and homework. 20% of Japanese university students spend 0 hours a week on study and homework. High school is where you study in Japan, not university (with some exceptions, namely hard-as-shit stuff like law and medicine). So getting rid of humanities degrees, for the most part, wouldn't severely change the amount of humanities education people have, because getting a humanities degree doesn't involve all that much humanities education. But, regardless, that's just a counterfactual, when in reality we're only talking about non-certification teaching degrees.
posted by Bugbread at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb and say Japan doesn't really have a prominent liberal intelligentsia anyway like there is in, say, the United States.

I take your point that they aren't equivalent countries and cultures, but that's a hell of a statement. Something happen to Kenzaburo Oe I should know about?

But if that's what they meant ... I mean, I'm not 100% fluent in Japanese, but it seems like a very ambiguous sentence to me, and I think most people reading the sentence in Japanese would think it referred to humanities and social science programs more generally.

Well, that's one compelling argument for a humanities education, anyway.
posted by thetortoise at 6:44 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


thetortoise: "Well, that's one compelling argument for a humanities education, anyway."

I'd be interested to know what the folks who actually write Ministerial documents majored in. I know that the absolute worst-written Japanese comes from small engineering companies (in their documents for the general public) and from advertising companies (in their internal documents). The engineering companies don't surprise me, but the advertising companies were a big surprise; I would have figured they'd be able to string two sentences together, but apparently anything beyond a short slogan is beyond the people who work there.
posted by Bugbread at 6:49 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I support anything that turns Japan into an anime-style techno-utopia with giant robots.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:33 PM on September 29, 2015


> Why are businesspeople so confident that only science (and of course business) degrees "serve the community"?

Because they cut English class to go to parties?
posted by desuetude at 8:28 PM on September 29, 2015


desuetude: "Because they cut English class to go to parties?"

Huh? Are you saying that if they offered more English language education in university that businessmen would think humanities courses served the community? How do those link, at all?

(Also, in my experience, people with business degrees are usually the some of the most focused on learning English.)
posted by Bugbread at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread is a great example of "imagined Japan" versus "real Japan."
posted by Nevin at 8:57 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think the humanities are like languages and math: they're useful and everybody should have some proficiency in them, but there aren't necessarily a lot of careers in them (outside of academia). Being an art historian or linguist is maybe niche enough that it could be taught in a smaller school where they can focus on doing a great job of teaching it (role reversal with technical colleges).
posted by mantecol at 9:18 PM on September 29, 2015


mantecol: "Being an art historian or linguist is maybe niche enough that it could be taught in a smaller school where they can focus on doing a great job of teaching it"

I don't know how the averages work out, but the top 10 largest universities in Japan are all private universities. Number 10 on the list, Toyo University, has 25,781, while the largest national university, Osaka University, has 15,563.
posted by Bugbread at 9:33 PM on September 29, 2015


I think the humanities are like languages and math: they're useful and everybody should have some proficiency in them, but there aren't necessarily a lot of careers in them (outside of academia).

I'm not exactly sure how Japan works at the moment (things are changing rapidly), but under the old paradigm new university graduates would be recruited by employers who would then spend at least a year or more training them. Assuming they worked for an enterprise organization (or larger SME), recruits might be transferred laterally across an organization to build up different kinds of skills before being transferred to management.

The exception of course is for STEM grads who would go on to have engineering careers and so on. In the past anyway liberal arts grads spent most of the time "playing" at university, since a university degree was perceived to be a ticket to a white collar career track.

The other exception is women, who are typically underutilized in the Japanese workforce. They traditionally have received less pay, are not promoted, and were excepted to quit the labour force when they got pregnant.

While this past hiring season was the best in about (I think) 5 years or so in terms of the number of new college grads who got hired, in Japan there is still a structural problem with contract ("zero hours") work.

Basically, if you don't get that a career-track job by the final year of university you are, as we say in Canada, hooped.

If you graduated from a liberal arts college in one of the provinces where the economy is not so good, you're hooped.

If you're a woman and you are unmarried, you're hooped.

If you never went to college and you're from one of the provinces, you're hooped, stuck working for minimum wage jobs.

Many people end up going to Tokyo.

My point is that while Japan is most definitely an entrepreneurial culture, job seekers don't have much of a chance to be entrepreneurial. There is a reluctance to hire older workers (older than, say 25).

There is also no culture of job hopping (in the white collar world).

So in many ways, unless you intend to be an academic or work for a newspaper, taking liberal arts at a post-secondary institution can be pretty risky.

This past hiring season was pretty good for liberal arts grads, but inflation has subsided, and the economy is back to zero-growth/deflation.

So, although Abe announced a new stimulus package (the official policy is to print print and print money), it's hard to say how new grads are going to do in April.

In fact, most grads will have set up their jobs for April by the end of this month, so we should have an idea soon.
posted by Nevin at 9:39 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


thetortoise: “I do think it's probably of a piece with the dismantling of public universities worldwide. ”
“Dismantling the University,” Nika Knight, Full Stop, 17 June 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 9:44 PM on September 29, 2015


ob1quixote: "“Dismantling the University,” Nika Knight, Full Stop, 17 June 2015"

While interesting, that really, really doesn't sound like the situation at Japanese universities.
posted by Bugbread at 9:51 PM on September 29, 2015


> Huh? Are you saying that if they offered more English language education in university that businessmen would think humanities courses served the community? How do those link, at all?

Sorry, bugbread, I should have been more clear about my antecedent, that was a bit of snark riffing on the parallel US sniffiness about the "uselessness" of certain humanities majors. E.g. that if those business majors who think that business degrees are so perfectly practical had bothered to study a little more literature, they'd recognize its value in developing deeper critical thinking and communication skills.
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Woof. That'll Give Stephen Harper some new ideas...
posted by Sintram at 11:26 PM on September 29, 2015


Journalism and foreign languages are also "liberal arts" skills, and if you can't extrapolate from the current example what impact they could have on the bottom line, well, you probably have engineers' disease.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bugbread: “While interesting, that really, really doesn't sound like the situation at Japanese universities.”
Agreed, but I think thetortoise's premise is correct, as illustrated by that story from Maine. Japan has been doing it their own way for decades, of course. I feel like the very idea of what it used to mean to "be educated" is under assault worldwide by neo-liberal and reactionary elements. I guess my thinking is influenced in part by a couple of recent threads that put me in a dark mood.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:56 PM on September 29, 2015


klangklangston: "Journalism and foreign languages are also "liberal arts" skills, and if you can't extrapolate from the current example what impact they could have on the bottom line, well, you probably have engineers' disease."

Are you saying that the reason English journalism on Japan is horrible is because Western universities have been cutting back on liberal arts programs? Because journalism on Japan has always been shitty. I mean, yes, what's happening at Western universities recently sucks, but I think the problem with English language journalism regarding Japan is a lack of people wishing to be in the field, not a lack of educational opportunities.
posted by Bugbread at 12:06 AM on September 30, 2015


“Are Japan’s national universities actually getting rid of their humanities departments?” Preston Phro, Rocket News 24, 30 September 2015
So, what does all this mean? Well, it seems that Japan’s national universities probably won’t be closing all their humanities and social sciences departments—at least not just yet. It’s entirely possible that the letter meant exactly what everyone thought it meant and that MEXT is just reacting to the anger of Japan’s universities. Put simply, we’re not sure many people believe (or necessarily should believe) the current explanation. The History News Network has a very detailed look at the budgetary and policy issues facing Japan today, if you’re looking for a more in-depth analysis.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:38 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, as I have stated before (earlier today, in fact), Economics is a pseudoscience... the Social Sciences equivalent of Astrology

Do you have any justification for this assertion ?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:46 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because journalism on Japan has always been shitty.

I don't know, Tokyo Shimbun is pretty good. As is Closeup Gendai. Then there's Aera. I quite like all of the Asahi publications, actually. I think the 週刊誌 have their place...
posted by Nevin at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2015


Not Japanese journalism, journalism on Japan. I was referring to coverage of Japan outside the country (though English language journalism within Japan isn't always so hot either).
posted by Bugbread at 7:46 AM on September 30, 2015


Not Japanese journalism, journalism on Japan. I was referring to coverage of Japan outside the country (though English language journalism within Japan isn't always so hot either).

Ah, I see. I tend to agree with you.
posted by Nevin at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2015


“University of Tokyo loses top spot in Asia: global survey,” Japan Today, 01 October 2015
Phil Baty, who edits the rankings, blamed budget cuts on the University of Tokyo’s fall in the rankings but noted that Japan is still Asia’s number one nation for top universities and the third most-represented country overall, with 41 of its institutions making this year’s list.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:41 PM on September 30, 2015


"Are you saying that the reason English journalism on Japan is horrible is because Western universities have been cutting back on liberal arts programs? Because journalism on Japan has always been shitty. I mean, yes, what's happening at Western universities recently sucks, but I think the problem with English language journalism regarding Japan is a lack of people wishing to be in the field, not a lack of educational opportunities."

No, I was saying that this was a pretty obviously poorly reported story and one apparently based on a poor translation of a single sentence. At an American paper, this sort of error would be seen as hugely embarrassing and someone would likely be fired for it — I assume a similar reaction in Japan, but based on your description of their state, perhaps they're beyond being embarrassed by errors like this. In any event, like many communication skills there are often few immediately apparent profits from investing in journalism or foreign languages but many immediately apparent costs from doing them poorly.
posted by klangklangston at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2015


Kingston has a particular point of view.
posted by Nevin at 6:35 PM on September 30, 2015


klangklangston: "No, I was saying that this was a pretty obviously poorly reported story and one apparently based on a poor translation of a single sentence. At an American paper, this sort of error would be seen as hugely embarrassing and someone would likely be fired for it."

Not quite. It was based on a poorly written sentence (i.e. the original sentence, in Japanese, is poorly written), and the English media ran with and further mangled things. The situation is that A (non-cert teaching classes) is to be abolished and B (social science) is to be reorganized, which the author phrased as "A and B are to be abolished or reorganized". Like saying "John Lennon and Ringo Starr are dead or releasing a new album." Then English headlines cut out the "A" part and the "or reorganized" part, turning it into "B is to be abolished", making it even more dramatic. ("Ringo Starr is dead.")

But the only newspaper linked in the FPP is the Wall Street Journal (ICEF and Social Science Space are apparently not newspapers). You really think that the author is going to get fired for this? If people got fired every time they got something blatantly wrong about a story about Japan, you could hook the newspaper's revolving door up to a generator and power the newspaper's printing presses.

klangklangston: "I assume a similar reaction in Japan, but based on your description of their state, perhaps they're beyond being embarrassed by errors like this."

If you mean what would happen if a Japanese newspaper misreported some US education issue? Probably the same as what happens when the converse happens, like this case: nothing, really. People like me go on Facebook and set things straight for Japanese friends who get misled. If a Japanese newspaper misreported a domestic education issue, there would probably be a retraction/correction, and that would be it. I doubt anyone would get fired over it. I'm actually more of a news watcher than a newspaper reader, so I don't know if newspapers are different, but while I've seen news programs be very critical of the government, companies, etc., I've never seen a news program be critical (or even admit the existence of) any other news programs.

klangklangston: "In any event, like many communication skills there are often few immediately apparent profits from investing in journalism or foreign languages but many immediately apparent costs from doing them poorly."

I agree, and I believe the Ministry of Education agrees. In June 2014 the Ministry of Education released a mission statement, which included this: "Humanities and social sciences、multidisciplinary studies, and specified fields play an important role in understanding (“reflecting on”) human behavior and various current events (“societal phenomena”), creating a foundation for and improving the quality of human spiritual (or mental) life, understanding (“reflecting on”) societal values, and accurately analyzing current events (“societal phenomena”)" (I put more literal translations in quotes. Here's the original text, in case I translated poorly: 人文・社会科学、学際・特定分野は、人間の営みや様々な社会事象の省察、人間の精神生活の基盤の構築や質の向上、社会の価値観に対する省察や社会事象の正確な分析など重要な役割を担っている)

It sounds like some folks here are arguing for the value of a humanities education, but, with the exception of DetriusXII above, I don't know who they're arguing with.
posted by Bugbread at 8:13 PM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, a bit of background on how students are currently distributed between private and national universities.
             Private  Nat'l
Law            91%     9%
Economics      86%    14%
Business       91%     9%
Humanities     94%     6%
Science        41%    59%
Engineering    55%    45%
Medicine       33%    67%
posted by Bugbread at 8:32 PM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If a Japanese newspaper misreported a domestic education issue, there would probably be a retraction/correction, and that would be it.

And then there was the forced climbdown by the Asahi after some guy made some sort of mistake about Comfort Women.
posted by Nevin at 9:05 PM on September 30, 2015


Yeah, of course, it matters what kind of mistake. Mistakes regarding diplomacy or sensitive topics will have very different outcomes from mistakes on less sensitive topics. I just meant "a mistake of this type and magnitude would just result in a retraction/correction".
posted by Bugbread at 9:16 PM on September 30, 2015


No, as I have stated before (earlier today, in fact), Economics is a pseudoscience... the Social Sciences equivalent of Astrology

Do you have any justification for this assertion ?


The neoclassical coup has been so complete that when most people say "economics," they mean, "neoclassical economics". Starting from this premise, I will direct you to chapter 1 of Steve Keen's Debunking Economics, in which it is shown from the writings of the neoclassical economists themselves that the demand curve is not derivable for a market unless all consumers are assumed to be identical, and the supply curve of a market is not derivable at all. From these "foundations" grow all of modern economic theory.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:25 AM on October 1, 2015


"But the only newspaper linked in the FPP is the Wall Street Journal (ICEF and Social Science Space are apparently not newspapers). You really think that the author is going to get fired for this? If people got fired every time they got something blatantly wrong about a story about Japan, you could hook the newspaper's revolving door up to a generator and power the newspaper's printing presses."

Depends on the level of the writer/stringer — back when WSJ was still a Dow concern, if your reporting led to a correction/retraction and you weren't someone that your editor would fight for (while they were getting holy hell themselves for letting it get by them), yes, you'd be fired for this. Corrections are a big deal — at most mid-level newspapers, if you had more than one or two a year you'd be fired unless you had serious clout, and even then you'd likely be dressed down or assigned to cover the overnight agriculture beat or some shit. Standards have been slipping in recent years across the board — the Detroit Free Press ethics guide used to prescribe being fired for not having a receipt for a lunch with any source, to make sure that you weren't accepting even a cup of coffee let alone any gifts.

" If a Japanese newspaper misreported a domestic education issue, there would probably be a retraction/correction, and that would be it. I doubt anyone would get fired over it. I'm actually more of a news watcher than a newspaper reader, so I don't know if newspapers are different, but while I've seen news programs be very critical of the government, companies, etc., I've never seen a news program be critical (or even admit the existence of) any other news programs."

Really? It's declined over here, not least because the law about media ownership limits was lifted to allow the same company to own more than one paper in town, but I know reporters for whom reading the other papers' corrections was part of their beat and led to gleeful (and cheap) copy. Are newspaper wars not a thing in Japan?
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 PM on October 2, 2015


The neoclassical coup has been so complete that when most people say "economics," they mean, "neoclassical economics".

Then they're wrong. neoclassical economics != economics. Anyway, no one said neoclassical economics is pseudoscience, they said economics is pseudoscience. In doing show they display their ignorance.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:02 PM on October 2, 2015


Don't pretend that the word "economics" doesn't mean "neoclassical economics" to almost the entire American public. Our media and leaders on both sides of the aisle have been pushing that line hard for decades, and it has sunk in. That is exactly what I meant by saying, 'The neoclassical coup has been so complete that when most people say "economics," they mean, "neoclassical economics".' The discourse has become so skewed that often people aren't even aware that other kinds of economics even exist.

This is aside form the argument that it doesn't have much if any predictive power, and anything without much if nay predictive power doesn't really deserve to be called a science. Sometimes I agree with that, sometimes I'm not entirely sure.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:51 PM on October 2, 2015


“Universities fending off attacks on the liberal arts,” Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times, 03 October 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 9:39 AM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: "Are newspaper wars not a thing in Japan?"

Well, like I said, I'm more a TV news person than a newspaper person, so there may be big drama over there that I'm not familiar with. And here we get into specific differences between countries. Japan, for example, has weekly magazines which are very adversarial. I've never read them, but they always have ads up in the trains with the week's headlines, and it's all "Is the LDP destroying Japan?!" and "Abe's latest tyrannical machinations" and the like. That and salacious stuff about porn actresses and the like. I've seen headlines like "Asahi Newspaper, the government's lapdog, at the heart of new scandal!" So it's not like nobody takes newspapers to task. I just get the feeling that newspapers don't do it to each other, and I know news programs don't.

Also, don't put too much weight in my assumption that nobody would get fired at a Japanese newspaper. I assumed the same thing about the WSJ, and that was incorrect, so I might be equally wrong about Japanese papers. I only know what I see from in front of the scenes, but don't have any knowledge behind the scenes.

ob1quixote: "“Universities fending off attacks on the liberal arts,” Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times, 03 October 2015"

The content of that article doesn't really match the headline. The content is basically this thread.
posted by Bugbread at 4:53 PM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Bugbread: “The content of that article doesn't really match the headline. The content is basically this thread.”
Yes, quite. I should have included a quote. I actually had this one on my clipboard when I posted it:
Requesting anonymity, a national university professor currently in an administrative role says he thinks the reforms won’t have much immediate impact, largely due to pushback from faculty and students. He attributes the attack on liberal arts to “idiots” in the LDP who want to stifle democracy and who “dislike the social sciences and humanities for ideological reasons.”

“I do not know why they did this in such a clumsy way to make it sound like a bunch of philistines attacking the social sciences and humanities,” he said. “Talk about bad PR.”
I decided that was cutting awfuly close to editorializing-via-blockquote though, so I thought of homunculus and decided to link the article without a quote. Apologies.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:52 PM on October 5, 2015


I never said I was a role model.
posted by homunculus at 11:40 PM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


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