Humanities degrees deserve recognition

Jesse Szweda, Columnist

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Jesse Szweda

At the end of this semester, I will be graduating with an English degree, along with other students at this University. Studying the great works of literature that humanity has created throughout the centuries has left me with knowledge I will treasure for the rest of my life.

However, there are some who would dispute the value of such study. In fact, many would say that getting an English degree or a humanities degree of any kind is a waste of time.

The humanities are fields of study that focus on human beings and their culture, such as literature, art, history and philosophy. However, in recent years, their value to the University system has been questioned and sometimes denied. For this reason, I believe that changing attitudes about the humanities is critical for students’ future well-being.

UW Oshkosh English professor Robert Feldman said he thinks that a lack of funding and dismissive attitudes are both major problems facing the humanities right now.

“The humanities are suffering because we’re not getting enough funding, and we need that,” Feldman said. “The attitude in our nation in terms of our culture has always been that the humanities are frills. That is to say, they’re not essential for a college student to have in order to get a good-paying job.”

UWO English professor Christine Roth said she thinks that doubts about the usefulness of humanities degrees contribute to these attitudes.

“People see the humanities as a luxury. The humanities are something that you study when the job market is really good because it is a luxury,” Roth said. “And if you’re responsible, you study STEM or something that immediately leads to a job.”

The belief that getting a humanities degree is tantamount to signing up for a life of poverty is unfortunately common. Despite the prevalence of these beliefs, the fact is that the humanities are an indispensable part of our Universities and employment opportunities for students with humanities degrees are not as bad as cynics would have you believe.

Feldman said convincing people of the educational value of the humanities will be necessary if we want to see them thrive again.

“I think what we need to do, and I say we as a nation, is instill in the minds of our citizenry that the liberal arts are essential, that the humanities are essential,” Feldman said.

Roth said she believes that humanities majors can be great assets for businesses due to their natural communication skills and interest in people.

“In an age where we communicate via the internet and via email and blogs and online marketing, it’s all writing and visual rhetoric,” Roth said. “And no matter what business you go into, you’re going to need to be able to communicate and understand other people.”

If we can convince people that the humanities still deserve a place in our universities and have as much ability to succeed in the job market as their peers, it could go a long way in changing the way the humanities are perceived and possibly lead to an increase in interest and funding.

UWO philosophy professor Robert Wagoner said he believes that the effort to change people’s attitudes toward the humanities is already underway.

“One can find many op-eds, studies and so on online arguing, in one way or another, that people’s impressions about humanities majors and the employment opportunities associated with them are all mistaken,” Wagoner said. “Perhaps in time, this way of thinking will have an impact on the general population.”

Universities have traditionally included the humanities for a reason. It is because they, more than any other fields of study, connect us with the questions that set us apart from all other creatures on earth. You can’t put a price on questions about truth, goodness and beauty, and if I can see the value the humanities have in terms of answering these questions, there’s no reason that others can’t come to recognize them as well.