The “Great Void”

For liberal arts majors, more cuts means fewer career options.

Jenna Beyer

Ah, college graduation. We wait four — or five to six — years for it. the moment that validates all that late-night cramming and writing. The moment that provides tangible proof of hard work. It’s a huge personal moment, the end of one chapter — or novel — and the beginning of another. A defining moment filled with smiles and camera flashes.
But one month after my graduation, I’m looking for explanations, and I have the desire for a T-shirt that reads, “I went all the way through college and all I got was this mixed-up sleep schedule, lousy eating habits and a Gmail addiction.”
Getting used to real life — what with its lack of on-campus and off-campus study routines — was difficult enough. And the question of what to do echoes in my ears while I try not to hear the quick tick-tock of the loan deferment clock. Like a mother with postpartum depression, I have no energy to nurture the degree I birthed after years of labor.
Graduating today feels more like a punishment than a reward. And the economic black cloud looms over post-graduation “freedom” for former students like me. Whether it is rising debt loads, transportation costs or the job market, graduating brings one face-to-face with these realities. Thankfully, I’ve had a great restaurant job throughout college that has paid decently, and I have enough savings to float me for a little while in an emergency. There’s no cardboard box in my near future.
Yet, to pursue a Bachelor of Arts is to pursue uncertainty. A history major or English major cannot typically graduate and become a historian or a writer, unlike engineering majors or nursing majors who can become engineers or nurses.
The College of Liberal Arts website lists program rankings for doctorate and graduate programs, but not undergraduate programs, as if to admit that a liberal arts degree is rarely enough on its own. Of course, most liberal arts majors are aware of this fate from the get-go.
The arts are fascinating and allow for a deeper, more enriching study of the world than do the specified programs, like engineering and nursing, and they give more robust education than any other program. The study of liberal arts can open an infinite number of doors — especially for the ambitious learner with a penchant for crossing intellectual borders with cross-disciplinary degrees — because it doesn’t restrict students to a specific profession for life.
Despite these benefits, liberal arts studies are now bearing the brunt of the University’s draconian budget cuts. CLA will lose 52 faculty spots and 156 course options, per President Bob Bruininks’ budget proposal for next year. And the CLA 2015 Committee announced in a recent interim report that it will move toward more specialization in its program offerings.
Rather than cutting courses and instructors, CLA should increase the value of the student experience by introducing community involvement into its curriculum. An internship requirement could provide new avenues for the intimidated and highly motivated student alike. And it could replace the tedious science and foreign language requirements that, more often than not, usurp a student’s precious energy.
This would increase a graduate’s marketability, involve them with the community and make our world a better place in the process by getting some necessary work done in our communities. Most importantly, it would give liberal arts majors the firsthand experience they so desperately need upon graduating and facing “The Great Void”.
Jenna Beyer welcomes comments at [email protected]