Humanities program deserves preservation

The College of Humanities is currently one of the most underappreciated of the University’s undergraduate departments. Although there is not an overwhelming demand for enrollment in the department’s courses, the material is an essential component in an undergraduate education. However, the program’s future might soon be in jeopardy. Once a foundation of many universities’ curriculum, study of the humanities is being replaced with vocational and career-oriented courses. Instead of eliminating the program, the University and College of Liberal Arts administration should recognize its current value to many students and its potential value to most University undergraduates.
Currently, the department only offers the Humanities in the West minor program, mainly coordinated by one full-time faculty member — Professor George Kliger — and several volunteer faculty from other departments such as French and Italian, history, educational policy and administration, Afro-American and African studies, music, German and theatre. In 1992, the humanities major program was eliminated, and many of its resources and faculty members were incorporated into the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. Unfortunately, this arrangement only addresses a small portion of the former major’s material and often from a politicized — rather than historical — perspective.
Humanities is among the most important subjects in an undergraduate education, as it provides students with an interdisciplinary and comprehensive survey of the foundations of contemporary Western culture and science. The Humanities in the West program provides this survey of 2,500 years of Western art, music, religion, philosophy, literature, natural sciences, psychology and political science in only six courses. Students would have to take several courses each in English, art history, music, philosophy, classical and Near Eastern studies and other related disciplines to learn the same material taught in the department’s current courses.
The current program should not only be preserved but even expanded. The University should realize the value of the program’s curriculum and incorporate the courses into the general-education requirements. Many students complete these requirements with a collection of disparate courses that each only vaguely satisfies the individual requirements and without the thorough foundation of contemporary civilization the humanities courses provide. If the courses were allowed to meet more requirements, they could be used by Institute of Technology and other students to satisfy general requirements in far fewer courses than are currently required. The University should also consider re-offering a major program and assert its appeal as a broad subject useful as an undergraduate major, similar to history or economics.
It is unfortunate that one of the University’s most valuable departments is considered dispensable and irrelevant to a modern education. Although many students are interested in practical, career-oriented course work, the program’s current offerings allow such students to have comprehensive and dense exposure to material they otherwise wouldn’t have room for. The College of Humanities should be among the last considered for elimination.