November 4, 2013

Alison Byerly’s Letter to New York Times on Role of Humanities

The New York Times published the following letter from President Alison Byerly today:

To the Editor:

Interest Fading in Humanities, Colleges Worry” (front page, Oct. 31) repeats clichéd dichotomies, pitting the humanities against STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and broad liberal arts education against vocational training.

In fact, the major value of a college curriculum, and the reason an undergraduate degree is still preferable to a random menu of massive online open courses, is the opportunity it offers students through a variety of disciplines and the different skills specific to each. A university’s willingness to provide those options, even though some fields may draw more students in a given year, is not a flaw in its business model. It is what you are paying the university to do.

As president of a college that offers both liberal arts and engineering, I can say that most colleges do not view humanities and sciences as in competition with each other. Today’s students need to develop the capacity for open-ended inquiry cultivated by the liberal arts, and also the problem-solving skills associated with science and technology. A quality curriculum does not shirk its responsibility to offer both.

Alison Byerly
President, Lafayette College
Easton, Pa., Oct. 31, 2013

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