"The Power of And" has been President Bodnar's slogan to describe the University of Montana since the beginning of this year; it is a direct reference to the importance of a Liberal Arts education here at the University of Montana. This made the recent release of the Budget Targets for 2021 all the more shocking to the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) because, despite the rich tradition of liberal arts here in Missoula, CHS will be receiving a 20% cut to their budget by 2021.
Therefore, this week, I plan to author a series of three letters (the first has already been published), in which I will annunciate some contradictions implied by the Budget Targets as well as implore you all to join me in demanding a voice in our education. In this letter, I hope to address the importance of the Humanities in higher education generally, not just at the University of Montana.
But, first, let’s talk economics. I make reference to this complex topic only to provide a single observation, namely, that the U.S. economy is driven by general skills. Unlike the economy of, for example, Germany, which functions mostly based on a laundry list of specific skills, workers in the U.S. are expected to have experience with a variety of tasks. This is the reason for the high standard for education in our country, insofar as an undergraduate degree provides future employees with the broad swath of skills necessary to be competitive in our economy. However, since universities are spurred on in large part by alumni donations, this creates a conflict of interest for administrators. White collar jobs, fed by professional schools, tend to have the largest rate of return and, as such, have been recently prioritized by institutions across the nation. The decline of the Humanities across the U.S. is directly correlated to the demands of the U.S. economy; therefore, only by ascribing a non-monetary value to the Humanities can we save space for the Liberal Arts in higher education.
Despite the difficulty of making such arguments to those only concerned with university business interests, once one steps away from the spreadsheets, the importance of the Humanities becomes obvious. The partisan divide, which has reached is highest mark since the civil war, could be mitigated by a focus in the Humanities, as one of the central themes of such programs is cross-boundary communication. Humanities programs provide the foundation for an educated populous; they inform citizens on contemporary issues that will be decided by those same students in the years to come. But, most importantly, Humanities programs facilitate the implementation of the aforementioned general skill base that an undergraduate degree is meant to provide. So, for students to truly be successful in our economy, in their futures, a Humanities education is one of the best routes they could pursue.
Although a focus on the professional schools may have a direct economic benefit for universities, it in no way justifies the decline of the Humanities across the U.S. If the point of an undergraduate degree is to provide general skills, then the Humanities should be prioritized, not neglected. As such, I invite you to join me on the steps of Main Hall this Friday at 8:30 am to express UM’s commitment to the Humanities. Bring your homework, grab a free coffee, have a seat, and make your voice heard; this decision shapes the lives of students, faculty, and the community we care for so dearly.