‹ speculatio pauperis in deserto

Why do we need the humanities if no one is majoring in them?

Dec 28, 2023

Clarkson University announces plan to phase out majors in humanities, communications.

[Kelly] Chezum [Clarkson’s vice president for external relations] said the university has always been focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The nine majors being phased out — social documentation, history, literature, sociology, film, political science, digital arts and sciences, communications and media, and interdisciplinary liberal studies and humanities — represent less than 2% of students.

Very often when programs in the humanities are cut, the cuts are justified—explicitly or not—by pointing out how few students will be affected by these cuts. The “vice president for external relations” here points out that Clarkson has historically been more of a STEM school anyway & that only a very small percentage of students are members of the programs being cut. The suggestion, then, is that Clarkson students aren’t really getting hurt in all this—there are hardly any students choosing these majors in the first place, & those students will be allowed to finish their degreem programs before the programs are fully phased out. This sort of reasoning seems to be fairly typical when humanities are cut: students aren’t majoring in the humanities, so why do we need them?

I find this kind of reasoning frustrating for a lot of reasons, chief among them that there is more to a college education than vocational training. In fairness to Clarkson it has not announced any plans to cut or scale back its general education curriculum, so its non-humanities students will have to take classes that are ordered to deep & critical thinking. But what does it say to a university’s students when that university cuts its programs in the humanities—those fields that are primarily interested in questions of ultimate meaning & significance, particularly where human existence & shared life are concerned—about the importance of such questions?