There were a couple interesting articles in the New York Times in the past couple weeks that caught my eye. The first article, linked here, is about the government (in particular Senator Matt Bevin of Kentucky) trying to get more students to obtain college degrees in STEM fields as opposed to degrees in the humanities. This would be done by reducing or completely cutting the financial aid for some humanities/social science majors. Strangely, the article singled out French literature on more than one occasion as an example of a seemingly frivolous humanities degree.
Before I continue, let me reveal some of my biases here. I had originally chosen to major in comparative literature for my undergraduate degree and only decided to switch fields to physics after two and half years as an undergraduate. This decision was made certain after I took my first course in literary theory (ick!!).
With that preamble, I can safely say that I greatly value a broad liberal arts education. The study of subjects like philosophy, history, linguistics and literature make us more culturally and morally aware, make us more open-minded and generally make us richer citizens. Furthermore, people are more likely to succeed in a field where their strongest motivations lie. They should not feel discouraged from pursuing these ideals. They already know that they are likely to make significantly less money than STEM majors over a lifetime, yet they choose to pursue those fields nonetheless. Overall, I don’t necessarily see financially biasing STEM fields as harmful, but we must be aware of the extent to which this is done. The humanities are important, and the perspective they bring should not be underestimated.
The second article, linked here, concerned sexual harassment in the STEM fields. Though the data on this is sparse, the anecdotal evidence suggests that this happens more often than we’d like to think. The article is worth reading, and one wonders whether we could learn something from humanities departments with regards to this matter.