Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once said that the average English degree holder is fated to become a shoe salesman, hawking wares to former classmates who were lucky enough to have majored in math. Meanwhile, PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, who studied philosophy at Stanford, refers to degrees like his as “antiquated debt-fueled luxury goods.” Faced with such attacks on the liberal arts, it’s no wonder that interest in the humanities is waning. As the college year begins, many students are likely to take President Obama’s advice and forgo an art history degree for a certificate in skilled manufacturing or some other trade.
Not to be outdone, defenders of the liberal arts are jumping into the fray. Among them are New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, liberal arts consortiums and even a pair of cartoon crusaders called Libby and Art (get it?) who are quick to respond to people besmirching the humanities on Twitter. But joining this chorus are some unexpected voices: CEOs of technology companies.