Originally published on Sumner Newscow on May 22, 2020
Happy Friday. Over the past week, I had a sister graduate from college and within the next few months, I’ll have another sibling start his collegiate experience which calls for a time to reflect. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2017 with a double-major in history and art history and the following year a Master’s degree in management, which means I got to see both sides of a decades-old ridiculous fight: the fight over what college is supposed to be “for.”
In undergrad, I heard over and over, “what are you going to do with that degree” and the answer I always had was “whatever I want.” Because while a business degree ensures you can get any lower-tier job you want at a franchise somewhere, humanities degrees teach you much more valuable skills.
The reason I bring it up now is that schools like Missouri Western State University are taking hatchets to their budgets and the first thing to hit the cutting room floor was their entire humanities departments. They cut 30 percent of their faculty, including the entire history, political science, sociology, economics, and music departments. On the heels of that, Liberty University announced this week that they would no longer be offering philosophy as a major.
The kids who had already declared these majors and have been working on them for years? Hung out to dry. If you’re still not appalled enough, check out this terrifying list from the CAA that’s been tracking colleges around the country for years as they slash arts and humanities programs.
The idea that one college major is superior than another is utter nonsense. STEM majors feel a false sense of superiority because they’re working in science and their majors will lead directly to a certain field (which is a fallacy, but it’s what they believe). Business majors feel self-righteous because they think the skills they’re learning will prepare them for any organization they walk into (again not true, but that’s the argument).
Arts and humanities majors believe themselves the beleaguered attendants of a dying breed of intellectuals, struggling to justify their existence (dramatic and not all the way correct, but such is their existence). What all these people have in common is their misguided belief that what they’re working towards is somehow more important than anything else. We need STEM majors to continue pushing science forward and helping our sick. We need business majors to prop up our economy. We need arts and humanities majors to work in politics, write our news, and push the needle forward on America’s general IQ. They are similar is that they all think themselves important and they need to justify their own existence in order to survive. Where they differ is that the humanities are the only ones that’s right.
Every college major is as necessary as every other, but the humanities are at a disadvantage because while STEM and business majors have definitive destination to what they’re working towards (most times they’ll wind up in a wildly different field, but they don’t consider that), humanities, and especially arts, students might not know what they will do after school. I was one such example in the mid 2010’s where I didn’t know what I would eventually do with my degree, but that’s not why I went to college. I went to college for my genuine love of history and art, and while I don’t work in art right now, I did already write my first book (that you can buy here, no pressure).
Humanities majors are people who love their subjects and want to learn more about them. College was not exclusively meant to make more attractive employees for the job market. It was meant to create experts in a vast litany of fields that studied for years to earn the prestige awarded to them.
It’s only been in the last few decades that not only scholars, doctors, and scientists were expected to attend university, but everyone needs to. Even for entry-level jobs, people are expected to have at the minimum an associate’s degree. This is ludicrous in a country that doesn’t even offer free community college. Since we now expect that everyone needs a degree, but not everyone wants to be a scholar, this gave rise to the modern business major. Business majors used to be economics majors in the humanities department, but once universities realized they could teach people basic accounting and supply chain and call it a separate major, collect that check, and send them on their way, it became an enterprise.
I have my Master’s in business, my sister graduated with a business degree, several of my friends and relatives were business majors, and I don’t mean to belittle the program. What I mean by the “modern business major” is that universities are capitalizing on what could be a one-year crash course in business practices and milking it for four years. MBA programs were originally meant to specialize in upper management, but now they’re almost expected for middle management. What I’m arguing here, is that the modern business major is just as flawed as any arts degree.
Schools like Missouri Western State and Liberty University have no business calling themselves “places of higher education” without an arts or humanities program. People fail to recognize what these programs bring to their lives every single day. Without these people, they’d have nothing to read, watch, listen to, learn, there would be no more teachers, no more journalists, and no more authors. And while those professions are just direct outputs of humanities and arts programs, they’re by no means exhaustive. These degrees teach their students something STEM and business doesn’t; they teach students how to think critically, structure and argument, and express themselves in a meaningful way, which are valuable skills in any profession. So while people like these misguided universities may see them as superfluous, they’ll probably end up working for a humanities major one day.
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