By Anand Veingalla
Assistant Features Editor
With recent news reports about humanities programs being reduced or eliminated at different colleges, humanities majors discussed the benefits and values they find in their programs of study.
Humanities disciplines include English literature, writing, philosophy, history, arts, and more. Although some humanities majors express doubts about career prospects, many students who major in the humanities appreciate the time they spend in their studies.
Glenn Magee, chairman of the philosophy department, believes that the humanities are valuable. “Most people go through life as if they are asleep. The task of humanities is to wake them up, and teach them multiple options for living life and for understanding themselves,” he said. “Literature and history do this, and philosophy, my discipline, certainly does, given that it challenges us to question everything, especially what society offers as the ‘approved, politically correct’ truths.
“As far as careers go, employers are looking for graduates who can read, write, and think (a rare commodity, these days). Humanities majors have an advantage, since employers recognize that they are literate, smart, and capable of thinking outside the box. Philosophy majors have higher mid-career salaries, on average, than business majors,” Magee said.
The philosophy department, Magee said, has been doing well, with good enrollment in classes. “I attribute this to the fact that we offer a wide variety of interesting classes, on different topics. We over hauled our course offerings several years ago, with the help of a student focus group we assembled.” As a result of the focus group, redesigned courses such as Happiness and the Good Life, Philosophy and Film, Business Ethics, Philosophies of Love and Sex are now offered since students generally find them exciting and relevant to their lives.
John Lutz, professor of English, however, said that some humanities programs have been cut, including foreign language majors. “This is part of a national trend to instrumentalize knowledge and completely subordinate it to the marketplace. Forms of knowledge that do not directly and obviously translate into monetary gain are being systematically marginalized. We’ve seen some enrollment decline in English,” hesaid. Lutz noted that there has also been an overall drop in enrollment campus-wide over the past several years, not just in the humanities.
.Jenna Curiale, a senior English major, appreciates her major. “I do love the major and enjoy my fellow English students. Also there are a number of great professors in the English department whom I admire,” Curiale said. “I’m very fond of Katherine Hill-Miller, Dr. [John] Scheckter, Margaret Hallissy, Dennis Pahl, and Tom Fahy.” Curiale became an English major after her first semester, when she realized social work wasn’t going to work for her. “English seemed the most practical choicesince it’s always been my favorite subject in school,” she said. “I’ve discovered some wonderful texts like Euripides’ Medea, the novel Push by Sapphire, and one semester I was introduced to Virginia Woolf who untilthat time I had never read.”
Although Griffin Albrecht, a junior political science major, has had second thoughts about majoring in the humanities, he considers his time well spent. “In hindsight I probably wish that I wasn’t pursuing a major in the humanities. If you’re going to pursue something in business,you’re definitely going to have a more secure job prospect. But for mepolitical science and the humanities is something I really enjoy,” he said. Albrecht thinks he has learned valuable skills in his major. “I think my skills in analysis in terms of analyzing works in general, my writing skills and my analysis skills are going to be better than someone who hasn’t had experience in an education in the humanities, whether it be history or understanding political science or theory.”
Thomas Okin, a sophomore art student, is also appreciative of the opportunity to study a field that he is passionate about. “The reason why I picked my art major in particular is because it’s something I’m interested in, and it’s something that I want to make my life based on,” Okin said. “To me at a young age I always wanted to express my feelings but I always have trouble trying to explain, so this is one of the reasons I picked it. It’s relaxing and also helps me express how I am feeling.” Okin is not worried about career prospects.
Lutz stressed the value of humanities. “A simple starting point for understanding the humanities is that they relate to an understanding of self. I think that the most important aspect of humanities disciplines is their capacity to deepen our empathy. Literature, philosophy and languages all encourage habits of self-reflection that enable us to have a better understanding of the human condition in all of its aspects,” he said.