October 25, 2011
Providing degrees to everywhere
(Edward C. Pease and D. Whitney Smith for the Deseret News) — When Sen. Howard Stephenson complained last winter about Utah college students wasting time and tuition on “degrees to nowhere,” he hit a nerve on campuses statewide.
Specifically, the Draper Republican’s gibe rattled cages in liberal arts colleges and in departments like English, history and the arts, where the joke has long been that graduates need to prepare certain phrases such as, “Do you want fries with that?” to go along with their Chaucer and appreciation for Renaissance painters.
But when Stephenson threw down his gauntlet and dissed the value of what has long been the core of any educated person — humanities, arts and social sciences — the faculty and students of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHaSS) at Utah State University pushed back.
Biology major Megan Paxton scoffed when she heard the “nowhere” remark. “I disagree. Very strongly,” she said. “The humanities are part of every sophisticated society. The arts keep us from turning into technical barbarians. They promote expression and higher thinking.”
The college, whose professors teach 60 percent or more of the general education classes required of all Aggie students — from aerospace studies majors to business majors, from mathematicians to zoologists — has no apologies for its support of the liberal arts. In fact, CHaSS has just launched an alumni magazine to trumpet the value of its curriculum and the successes of its graduates and their “degrees to everywhere.”
Dean John Allen, a rural sociologist, says a broad liberal arts education teaches critical thinking and communication skills; global perspectives; problem-solving and flexibility; and prepares students not just for that first job, but for life. National surveys of business executives consistently list “nowhere” skills and perspectives at the top of their lists of new employee attributes, he says.
“They want people with skills in critical thinking, quantitative analysis and complex problem solving. That’s what we do in a liberal education,” Allen said. “We bring that extra ability to integrate knowledge across fields and understand macro issues. We bring in the ethical decision-making process.” More…
Edward C. Pease is professor of journalism and head of the Department of Journalism & Communication at Utah State University. D. Whitney Smith is a junior journalism major.Posted by: psilberman