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A Grim Future for Humanity Without the Humanities

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

By Antara Gangwal and Eleanor Gil Sept. 28, 2023


Donning bright white lab coats, computing complex equations and writing intricate lines of code, students today race to declare science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Overlooked by many as unprofitable, humanities majors such as linguistics, philosophy and history continue to drop in enrollment. In the past decade, the amount of students pursuing a major in these fields declined by 17% in the U.S., per the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This trend made a tangible impact at West Virginia University (WVU), which plans to cut over 32 humanities majors, setting a problematic precedent for a future of humanity without humanities.

The largest public university in its state, WVU released a news report on Aug. 11 recommending the removal of 32 majors, which comprise 20 graduate-level and 12 undergraduate majors and represent 9% of the programs offered by the school. These cuts would impact 434 students enrolled in these majors—2% of the student body—and render 169 staff members—7% of the university's faculty—jobless.


WVU enacted these recommendations to account for a 10% drop in the WVU student population since 2015 and a $45 million budget shortfall, partly due to the declining government funding from Virginia, reports NPR. As the fifth-poorest U.S. state, West Virginia is unable to provide sufficient education funding—leaving public schools to suffer the consequences.


While factors such as inflation and pandemic-induced dropouts are out of WVU’s control, the administration also bears responsibility; the proposal is also a result of WVU’s financial mismanagement and lack of institutional transparency. Professor of Political Science Scott Crichlow told the New York Times that the school short-sightedly spent money on building and athletic renovations, accumulating debt rather than combating the enrollment crisis. Students in humanities programs recommended for removal—who led protests in response to the cuts—also believe that the university is erasing their voices in favor of monetary gain.


“It is critical for students to be given a variety of opportunities and program offerings so they have options when deciding their future. My sister plans to pursue a career in art, and if schools continue to cut humanities majors, I am concerned that she will not be able to study what she loves,” Freshman Caitlyn Benedek said.

One especially concerning cut outlined in the school’s original report is the removal of the entire world languages department, on the basis of declining student interest. Professors and students expressed outrage at this decision; foreign language classes prepare students for communicating abroad, opening up new opportunities in their career path. Especially in the United States, where 80% of citizens are monolingual—as per the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—losing access to foreign languages majors will greatly limit these opportunities, leading to a decline in linguistic diversity and literacy.


In response to heavy backlash, WVU updated its recommendations on Aug. 25, planning to continue Spanish and Chinese instruction— only two of the 24 languages previously offered. These recommendations depict the start of a concerning trend in higher education—which stems from influences in state management that believe a liberal arts education is useless. Other flagship universities, such as Louisiana State University, which is facing state population decline and a potential budget loss of $400 million, as per Louisiana Illuminator—may follow suit in cutting humanities majors to account for budget cuts.

Liliana Chai art


As interest in English and world languages declines nationally, it becomes increasingly crucial that the invaluable nature of the humanities be widely acknowledged to sustain all these skills this vast field furnishes society. The skills taught by humanities majors—such as critical thinking, literacy, communication and empathy—are essential; their loss will have detrimental consequences on students entering the workforce. Without foreign language and creative writing majors, society loses the stories of global cultures of the past, present and future. Fewer students studying philosophy and history yields politicians less informed about morality and ethics. The loss of humanities majors will even impact STEM fields, such as in the development of artificial intelligence, where morals taught by humanities are needed along with lines of code.


“For many years, the idea of a well rounded education has been a liberal arts education, including humanities classes. These classes are where you learn to think, engage in systems of government and understand your place in the world,” Jennifer Touchton, English Department, said.

Rather than eliminating humanities majors following the first threat of a rescinding budget, schools must fight to preserve these programs and look elsewhere to make up for lost funds—such as government bailouts and more holistic spending approaches. Humanities help people recognize their roles as citizens in a democratic society—humanities belong to everyone and intrinsically define global humanity.


 

About the contributors


Antara Gangwal

staff writer


Antara Gangwal is a junior at Leland High School and the School News and Entertainment page editor for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and watching the sunset.





Eleanor Gil

staff writer


Eleanor Gil is currently a sophomore at Leland High and an enthusiastic writer for The Charger Account. She spends her free time cultivating her deep passions for environmental sustainability and renewable energy, neuroscience and psychology, the law, tennis, and viola.



Liliana Chai

Artist


Liliana Chai is a freshman attending Leland High School and is an artist for the 2023-24 Charger Account. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, playing piano, sleeping, arts and crafts, and writing poetry. She is looking forward to Journalism and hopes to explore new ideas while collaborating with other people.

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