Bevin's blight: Why humanities majors are important

By Shankari Sureshbabu

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin suggested last month that students pursuing liberal arts degrees, such as French literature, should not receive state funding for their college educations.

Bevin is just one of the latest to urge students away from getting degrees in humanities fields and instead major in something more employable like Electrical Engineering or other STEM fields. Bevin argues that while students can choose to study whatever they want, they “won’t be subsidized by taxpayers like engineers will be.”JT http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/education&action=click&contentCollection=education®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=18&pgtype=sectionfront

It’s probably no surprise to most people that the number of students getting liberal arts degrees has already been decreasing. In public schools, humanities departments are often the first ones affected by budget cuts. Even in elite universities, there’s been a significant drop rate in students. Harvard University in particular had a 20 percent decline in humanities majors in the last decade alone.JT http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/education/as-interest-fades-in-the-humanities-colleges-worry.html?_r=0

On a college campus like UIUC, which has such strong STEM programs, liberal arts majors are often the butt of jokes about easy coursework and the rough job search. I, and probably many of my classmates, have sat in lecture at Noyes and fantasized about the college life of a Communications major only to be brought back into reality when we’re unable to answer the question, “Well, what would we do with a liberal arts degree?”

After all, that seems to be the issue at hand. Bevin does not have a problem with colleges full of kids studying French Literature, Art History and Philosophy. He takes issue with a surplus of graduates with these types of degrees who can’t find jobs in their field of study and are debt-ridden.

Coming from Bevin, a Japanese and East Asian Studies graduate from the liberal arts school Washington & Lee UniversityJT, this may seem hypocritical. As a governor, most of his staff and colleagues are probably not STEM majors, and he is presumably surrounded by hundreds of people on a daily basis that are living evidence as to why those who major in humanities are instrumental in any society. 

That being said, his argument is hard to combat.

Logically, he believes that technical majors would have easier post-graduation careers than those in humanities. 

“There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors, “Bevin said. “There just will.” 

In today’s technology-driven age, this is difficult to deny, especially as college is becoming more of a trampoline to kickstart your career instead of an institute of intellectual exploration. But the consequences of blindly pushing passionate, creative, and intelligent students away from the humanities and towards the sciences can also be dire.

The world, honestly, cannot run on engineers, tech geeks and scientists. We live in a world of art, music and film and that cannot be upheld when aspiring actors are being told to try Chemistry instead. Just as important as the undeniably impressive and revolutionary advances made in science today are also the political and social movements, and the messages spread by them. The entire media, political and business worlds shape the society we live in immensely every single day, but cannot function so smoothly with only 20 engineers in the control room.

Imagine a world where Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t blessing the silver screens with his face because he wanted to major in something with more job security. He wouldn’t have finally justified his acting career on Sunday with a CS major.

What Matt Bevin said makes sense on the surface. It’s probably a safer move for a lot of students to major in something that ensures them a job once out of college. But pushing talented kids and potential icons of tomorrow away from their passions and interests could be devastating for the collective cultural future. 

Shankari is a freshman in DGS.

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