Absurdum est reductionem

West Virginia University’s announcement last week that it planned to eliminate its world languages department, as well as its fiction writing program and other humanities disciplines, sent shock waves through liberal arts departments across the country. The university’s president, Dr. Gordon Gee, said the proposed cuts, which would remove 169 faculty members and 32 majors, result from a $45 million deficit.

Naturally, he plans to keep engineering and football. WVU leadership has been putting money in those programs like they were slot machines for the last ten years, which follows a trend nationwide. Sometimes those machines pay out. Students in particular STEM majors do quite well for themselves after they graduate.

Yet it seems disingenuous to reduce funding for humanities then bemoan their inability to attract students, which is precisely what has happened in West Virginia. (For what it’s worth, there has been an upward tick in the number of humanities majors nationwide since 2016, largely because those majors give students critical thinking and communication skills that other majors don’t.) Dr. Gee’s suggestion for students who still want those classes is to take them online from schools that do offer them, which is the ultimate “screw you” to the humanities. Online classes, as we learned during the pandemic, aren’t worth a bucket of cold, week-old dog urine.

Rather than cut humanities programs, governments and universities alike should acquiesce to the notion that education, when done well, is an inherently inefficient, yet supremely important endeavor. They should fund it accordingly, whether than involves shiny new labs for STEM types, or language programs for people yearn to see the world differently. If the money starts to run short, make sure administrators and assistant coaches get the ax long before the people who do the actual teaching. This is only an “either/or” crisis if we allow the Gordon Gees of the world to make it one. How about a “both/and” solution? Let’s teach the left side of the brain as well as the right.

I’m not sure why teachers and leaders in the humanities must defend their existence every time they turn around. It isn’t like instruction in STEM disciplines is apolitical–remember the hullabaloo about stem-cell research?–or inexpensive, or that a STEM degree guarantees a steady income. What can be done to remind politicos, pundits, and university presidents that a good education can only be as deep as it is wide? Or do you find an “education” where you take almost all your courses in your major an enticing prospect?

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11 Responses to Absurdum est reductionem

  1. Naomi Simpson says:

    We live in a world that highly undervalues creativity and critical thinking. This is seen in things like television (the ultimate “show don’t tell”) being more popular than books and the ideal job being safe office jobs as opposed to those that involve out-of-the-box thinking as their core. This lack of appreciation for the arts (including liberal arts) is likely a factor in WVU’s decision in cutting foreign language and liberal arts programs, whilst keeping imagination-less sport of football.

  2. Grace Ann Courtney says:

    I completely agree with you when you say “Let’s teach the left side of the brain as well as the right.” I’ve been adamant about the arts for as long as I can remember. My two main focuses have always been piano and painting. I find that if I go an extended period without doing one or both of these things, I go ‘stir-crazy.’ This same logic applies to students at WVU. If there is no bounds to encourage creativity how will these students continue to stimulate both sides of their brain? Online? It feels wrong to completely discourage an entire field of learning because it is ‘too expensive’ to maintain.

  3. Andy Chen says:

    A comment on the NY Times Article remarks that the highest-paid employee at WVU is their football coach. If true, this fact alone shows how this universities’ objective has shifted away from education.

    This issue is deeply complicated, but at the core of it, I believe, lies money. The central argument of the university is that the proposed genocide will clear a deficit. Show the university that without the humanities, that deficit will only continue to grow. Reduce support for these universities that fail to offer a true, interdisciplinary higher education. Students should steer clear with their tuition dollars, and government organizations should provide incentives to keep valuable humanities programs.

    While I admittedly have more interest in the STEM fields than the humanities, I recognize their importance to many and my own underappreciation for the beauty they hold. I do not currently think I will take a wide range of humanities in my higher education, but the option to change my mind is an important one to me.

  4. Carter Scaggs says:

    I mostly agree with you. I agree that students need something to ignite the left side of their brain. I agree that this is unfair to the teachers and to the students who are passionate to learn about these majors. I agree that communication and creativity are essential to pursue any career. However, I feel as though we are failing to see it from the administrators’ point of view. They have these majors that few students are enrolled in, that are rarely centralized in careers, and their enrollment numbers are dropping. I am sure that they did not make this decision lightly, and that they were doing what they thought were best for the students. I am not saying that they made the right decision, because, like I said, I agree that communication and creativity is essential for careers (though one could argue that they could pursue these in clubs or other classes). In the end, I do not know much about this topic and all I am saying is that I think it is best for us to keep an open mind before making judgments (“us” as in the students, I know you are much more educated about this than we are).

  5. Petra Herrmann says:

    The prospect of eliminating humanities courses from WVU is very troubling to me as someone who does not plan to pursue a stem or athletics-based career. From the perspective of administrators, I agree with some of the other comments saying that enrollment is dropping and as administrators they need to make attempts to address that however the jobs included in humanities are ones that are necessary to everyday life. I understand that sports are an important part of the college experience especially in the South but with how few players go on after college to become professional athletes, I feel that the athletics area is where the administration should be scaling back, not in humanities courses that at the end of the day seek to offer an education, which is the ultimate reason for pursuing a higher education. And to be clear when I say I feel they should scale back on spending for the athletic side of the University I don’t mean the side of it that offers scholarships to athletes as a way to help them get into college, I mean the amount that they pay coaches or spend on advertising. Many humanities courses and majors tend to be broad and don’t always lead to clear cut career paths the way that Stem fields do but they certainly should not be done away with completely.

  6. Samar Rahimi Rosas says:

    Humanities courses are one of the most important aspects of a well-rounded education. If students are not able to enroll in classes that allow them to exercise their creativity and express their own point of view, then they will miss out on learning critical interpersonal skills. Language classes teach students to effectively write various types of essays, analyze portions of text, and express their opinions and knowledge. All these abilities are essential in STEM related courses, since most require analysis of data, written conclusions, and/or explanations of equations.

    Though I believe there could have been other ways to cut costs, I do understand the thought process of the university cutting humanity courses. The administrators most likely saw that the cut classes were less popular among the students and led to an unclear future career. They also saw that these classes were widely available on online courses. And though you clearly stated your distaste for online classes, I believe it is an alright substitute for in-person classes that might not have had as many students signing up for them. Granted, these courses will need to be well planned out in order to be successful but could be a useful resource for less mainstream classes.

    I believe that most humanities courses should be a priority in university education. However, more obscure classes should be given online as an alternative for in-person classes. There are many more options to save money, many of which you have mentioned. Humanities courses should not need to take a back seat while subjects deemed “more important” are funded.

  7. Darshi says:

    I totally agree with what you said. While STEM education is really important, it is also as important to get your brain off of the stress of it too. Keeping humanities is the better way to go. It allows students to use the left side of their brain after school hours, and still get the knowledge they need from school.
    Playing tennis helps me get away from school work and also helps me put all the stresses aside for a couple of hours.
    Some students might love STEM, but why should that stop other students from participating is humanities or doing something they love. Humanities should be a kept not just at WVU, but at all the other schools too.

  8. Jennifer Bui says:

    The removal of world language departments, fiction writing programs, and other humanities disciplines by West Virginia University is uncalled for. Not only was it wrong for Dr. Gorden Lee to remove these programs before cutting football budgets to try to maintain these programs but the fact that it took away jobs and majors within WVU. Personally, I enjoy STEM but STEM may not be for everyone. Those who want to pursue this career path get an even smaller chance as colleges like WVU inhibit their ability to step one foot into the industry. Humanities are underappreciated and should be encouraged more. Career or not these humanities are a great way for students to “teach the left side of the brain” and should not be cut altogether.

  9. Thaddeus Ciesielski Gilbert says:

    I completely agree that removing humanities classes from a college’s courses is absurd. People constantly forget how helpful humanities is to everyday life, especially in the most obvious way, communicating. I myself am aiming for a STEM-based field for college, but I still understand the need to take and have humanities courses. I do believe the school should have slowly cut back on many different aspects slowly, instead of quickly removing an entire field of classes from the curriculum. I believe that just removing humanities courses severely undermines the student’s abilities to communicate and connect to the world around them. Humanities has been and will always be a large factor in everyday life, so removing humanities classes before reducing funding for football is one of the worst decisions I’ve heard a college make. The main thing I would do to remind those in charge of these decisions about the importance of humanities classes is to just let them watch their funding drop even more with fewer and fewer students applying and staying at that university. If you want to remind those in charge about the uses of humanities in everyday life, let them watch their scores, funding, student social life, and student’s mental well-being drop.

  10. Logan Lechner says:

    I believe that removing the world languages department from schools is idiotic. I don’t understand how certain people cannot see the value of knowing foreign languages. If we want to uphold global peace, we absolutely need to know how to communicate with other nations. This is imperative especially in recent years. Even beyond that reasoning, foreign languages are beneficial to those wanting to work better with those around them. Knowing a foreign language helps you to better communicate with the most amount of people, and it also helps you to make friends and connections with those that don’t necessarily speak your language. Even if they do speak your language, speaking to someone in their native tongue may touch them emotionally in a way that a language foreign to them may not.

  11. Aliyiah Richey says:

    I support the humanities, I’m also a deep lover of poetry for this to be removed from a college is lethal for people who want to pursue something that they are extremely passionate about, this limits so many people and contributes to the arrogance of parts of our society today.
    For example, a student who wants to attend WVU who lives in the state of West Virginia, and in the place of only able to afford WVU; and pursue the humanities, this is soul-crushing for this person. It is unfair, people have never fought for the humanities and always fought for what they think will most benefit the ‘economy.’ Which has deeply affected people who want to pursue what is literally the art of critical thinking. It is upsetting and sad, as someone who is strangely loyal to poetry. It would be tragic for something like this to happen.
    There has to be a balance somewhere, with math we need English, With science we need history. There will never be a point in taking away the beautiful balance that can take place when pieces of each of these things are enforced and engaged in. People become more passionate, we realize that in this world there’s so much more than taking away from the minority, just because they are easy to take away from.

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