“Let’s Get Rid of the Humanities!”

This afternoon, I was sitting in my only class of the semester (The Vonnegut Aesthetic, which reminds me, I still have to write those Vonnegut posts…sigh), and my teacher brought up things that would make Kurt Vonnegut angry in the modern world. Vonnegut, if you didn’t know, passed away in April 2007, so he missed the first African-American president, he missed the current Tangerine-in-Chief, and he missed the advent of the smartphone and the true internet era. Dr. Mahaffey brought up the following article:

“A University of Wisconsin campus pushes plan to drop 13 majors — including English, history and philosophy”

Yes, you read that right.

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has decided that they will get rid of the majority of their “humanities” majors in favor of ones with “clear career pathways” …and they also want to help get rid of their $4.5 million debt and declining enrollment.

The majors they are eliminating are:

• American Studies
• Art – Graphic Design will continue as a distinct major; will still be a minor
• English – English for teacher certification will continue; will still be a minor
• French
• Geography
• Geoscience
• German
• History – Social Science for teacher certification will continue; will still be a minor
• Music Literature
• Philosophy; will still be a minor
• Political Science
• Sociology — Social Work major will continue
• Spanish

As an English major, personally, this makes me incredibly angry. How do they get to decide which majors/career paths are better than others? Not to mention this is going to displace a lot of tenured professors, who fought and clawed their way up over years or even decades to get where they are. Now, suddenly, their entire livelihood is in jeopardy.

As part of this particular “revamp,” they’re also adding several new majors, all of which are in the STEM field. In this particular point, I can understand what they’re trying to do. (It doesn’t make me any less angry, though.) Due to their declining enrollment and their massive debt building up, they’ve decided to restructure their entire school system in order to make the school more STEM-oriented, leaving the humanities out in the cold. As someone who goes to a Liberal Arts University (in fact, the only public Liberal Arts University in the state of Alabama!), it’s unfathomable that someone would want to essentially remove creative thinking from the menu. Let’s take a look at the definition of “Liberal Arts:”

“The liberal arts are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (Latin: liberalis, “worthy of a free person”) to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that (for Ancient Greece) included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric were the core liberal arts (the Trivium), while arithmetic, geometry, the theory of music, and astronomy also played a (somewhat lesser) part in education (as the Quadrivium).” (Wikipedia)

If you take out the humanities, you take out ways of creative thinking and problem solving that extend far beyond the logical explanations that STEM paths usually offer as solutions.

I know that the logical solution here is to tell people to go to another school if they want to major in something in the humanities. However, that’s not the point. The point is, they’re going to be losing a lot of faculty members and a lot of perspectives on the world if they continue with this. If they want to rebrand the school as a technical vocational school, then by all means go ahead and do that, but it can be done without stripping the humanities department of what they’ve got. For some, this may be the only school within their budget or within their traveling distance for them to get a degree at, and limiting the selection available, unless there are literally only two to three people going through the program every year, seems like a bad decision all the way around.

This may be just because I’m an English Graduate Student attending one of the best liberal arts universities in the country, but I just can’t get behind this decision or really see any positives to it. If they’re hurting for money that badly, cut the athletic programs. Those coaches are horrendously overpaid, anyways.

What do you think about this? Give me your opinion, and let me know if you think I’m on the right/wrong track. And can you answer my professor’s question? What would Kurt Vonnegut say about this?

And as always, keep reading.

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