Clarke: In defense of the liberal arts

Passion isn’t the price for successful adulthood.

Sidney Clarke

Sidney Clarke

by Sidney Clarke

I hope that I am not the only student who has occasionally woken up in a fruit fly infested dorm room or poorly ventilated apartment and wondered why I thought any of this — going to college, studying liberal arts and leaving the dishes out over winter break — was a good idea. 

All 50,000 students at the University have reasons for studying here, which vary as widely as the backgrounds that we come from. Whether we’re here to satisfy the present or the future, to please our families or to spite them, few students’ motivations are unified. However, with the exception of those whose affections lie with engineering, data analysis or other STEM degrees, one constant dichotomy exists: whether to chase passion or profitability.

Many are driven to the college environment for its community sincerely dedicated to education and unbridled, illogical curiosity. However, a short walk through campus proves that students and educators endeavoring to discover the world’s intangible truths are often in direct competition with consumerist culture and the need to feel secure — even if doing so means abandoning legitimate interests and settling for predictable careers.

Admittedly, being one of the suckers drawn to the humanities and social sciences, I have periodically entertained the idea of pursuing a safer, more financially optimal degree. Graduation statistics reported by the Star Tribune from The University of Minnesota reveal a steady decline of interest in humanities degrees. More than 766 students graduated with a degree in English in 2003. By 2018, the University only graduated 412 English students. Other programs such as history, philosophy and art history saw similar results. Most mornings, I resolve to let weaker-minded students abandon their dreams and seek superficial materials such as ‘groceries’ and ‘housing.’ Let cowards fear words like ‘crippling student debt’ and ‘job security.’

In actuality, financial stability is a legitimate concern for students, especially given the cost of education. Travel, familial goals, and financial independence are all defensible arguments for profit over passion careers. Many of the same basic goals can be achieved with a certain level of adaptability, consistently strong financial decisions, and a diversified degree. However, the greater issue is our societal belief that wealth is the primary indicator of success and that passion is simply the price we have to pay for passage into adulthood. 

While at this time I cannot say with complete certainty, ask me again in 10 years, I believe that the only failure worth worrying about is a failure to commit to one’s own happiness and that risk is no more of an irresponsible decision than caution is. Given current political and environmental unrest, it often appears that the only place safety might live is within. This fear is one that I respect and relate to. However, I would like to think that the world at large has more to offer those who dare to ask.