UCSD is Not a Polytechnic University

Christina Damse / The Triton.

We’ve all heard the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It’s become a common idiomatic phrase in the English language, suggesting that we agree with it, even if only a little. It’s a hierarchical phrase, implying that one has to be better than the other. People often make the mistake of needing to rank things or debate if apples are better than oranges. We do the same with the Arts and Humanities department and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but neglect to realize that they’re strengthened by each other.

At such a STEM heavy university, we often lose sight of the world outside labs and textbooks. Case in point, on October 12, 2016 there were only 268 Literature majors at UCSD. In contrast, there were 6,385 biology majors. I’m not a STEM major, but I think this math is right – that’s nearly 24 times as many.

Some people look at these numbers and think, “Well, duh. We’re a school known for STEM. What can you do with an English lit degree anyway?” The answer is, well, everything, but that’s a story that doesn’t get told when we’re too focused on one thing.

Actually, our lack of non-STEM majors is bad for STEM. Without arts and humanities, UCSD is nothing more than a polytechnic university without the ability to fully realize its own potential, and we, as UCSD, lack the soul so necessary in today’s climate.

I once had a professor argue to the class that the Arts and Humanities Department “puts the U in UCSD.” He said it so absurdly and with such emphasis on the letter ‘u’ that the class laughed, but the point he was making is true. If UCSD does not value its Arts and Humanities students, we cease to become a research university and become a polytechnic, defined as “a school or other institution in which instruction in technical subjects is given.”

The erosion of campus culture is a chief complaint among many Tritons, and it is often assumed that the arts and humanities are a vital part of making that campus culture. Arts and Humanities students at UCSD study life outside the microscope, so if you want a poetry jam, talk to a literature major. If you want an open mic night, talk to a music major. You want people who know what culture is – talk to an Arts and Humanities major. Tritons want a campus culture, and Arts and Humanities majors can help give UCSD that culture and give students a more fulfilled college experience.

My high school English teacher told us – and I’m paraphrasing – “If you want your students to sail the ocean, you don’t teach them the geometry of the boat or the physics of the sails, you teach them to yearn for the open sea.”

We cannot use science to create a better world if we don’t have the capacity to dream that better world into reality. This arts and humanities-exclusionary STEM forgets a key part of pedagogy, which is that we must teach our students how to fix problems that don’t exist yet. When a problem arises, I will go into the canon of literature and discover how society fixed it before and how we can do it again.  But I will also find a scientist who won’t find that answer only through the lens of a microscope.

One of my personal heroes is Jonas Salk, the La Jolla resident whose titular institute is in spitting distance of campus. He invented the polio vaccine and refused to patent it, missing out on an income of over a billion dollars, and then dedicated his life to HIV/AIDS research. He did so because of his belief that the polio vaccine should benefit all of human-kind and not just wealthy Americans who could afford it. In an age with people like Martin Shkreli (the CEO who raised the price of an AIDS drug because it profited him), I think most people wish we had more Jonas Salks instead. He saw the future that the arts and humanities can inspire in all of us.

I am not arguing that STEM is bad – it’s not. We need to invest in the very idea of discovery instead of ‘science’ with immediate benefits. We have to dream and discover to make those benefits a reality. Science or art as a binary will not cut it. We must value both.

We need Arts and Humanities students now more than ever, and we need scientific progress too. If you are a STEM major, there is no need to head to TritonLink and change your major. But let’s work toward creating a campus climate that appreciates non-STEM majors in the hope that we have more students declaring Arts and Humanities majors in the future. When you go to Career Services, ask for career fairs for non-STEM majors. Ask the admissions department to advertise our non-STEM majors to potential applicants. And if you’re a STEM major with some extra time on your class planner, pick up an Arts and Humanities minor. I promise it will make your microscope mightier.  

Ashley Awe is a contributing writer for The Triton.

We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like for us to publish a response, or comment on a different issue affecting UCSD or the UC community, you may do so here.

  • Marcus

    What a complete crock of horse manure. Your attempt to justify the existence of useless majors by tying them to something that is not useless does not make your major worthwhile. The idea that diversity is good does not apply here because you miss the entire point of having an education to begin with. You do not understand what an education is! An education, that requires 4 years of university study, should be non-trivial otherwise it is not really an education but rather a hobby. The problem with English Lit and Arts is that there is not enough content to actually need 4 years to learn the subjects hence are a complete waste of time to take at a 4 year university. This is the heart of the problem and why, despite having more college grads (by %) than in the past, we still make horrible decisions as a people. These majors do NOT help you become better thinkers which is the real reason for education. All they do is boost self gratification for not doing something more complex just as your high school English teacher demonstrated by justifying his own job through poor reasoning and groundless oratory (see Gorgias by Plato).

    You do not need to teach “yearning” and it is not a teachers job to do so. In fact it is a complete waste of time because there is no shortage of people “interested” in every field that man participates int For example, if you remove sailing from classrooms, people will still sail. This is the crux of your problem. You do not seem to understand why we have education. You can be an artist regardless of what major you choose. This is the problem with your argument. For example, if you remove all arts from universities, do you really think that no one will create art any more? This is obviously not true as human history proves. The reason is that Art is a trivial skill. English Lit is a trivial skill. You do not need a formal education to become an expert at those fields. You can literally learn all you need to know on your own as a side hobby.

    The problem with STEM education (and the reason why it needs to be taught) however, is they need both financial support to get equipment needed for the study and the concepts are hard enough that people need to be monitored and tested to insure they really understood the subject before unleashing them onto society. Why? Because a poorly educated STEM grad can cause real damage to people if they get an important job such as working in civil engineering, electrical design, physics, chemistry, etc etc. That is not to say art does not have an impact, and certainly I love movies and music as well, but guess what? I can easily make a movie, and produce music without a formal education. Anyone can in literally a matter of days. This is why these majors need to be eliminated from the 4 year university. Teach them at the community level if you must, do not subsidize them with tax money, and be done with it. Time for humanity to move forward and we need to stop holding ourselves back as a society.

    • Aditi

      Lol this comment just proves the point of this article. People like you need to take more of there classes for having such baseless and TRIVIAL understanding of these subjects.

    • Marcus

      Oh really? How about this then. I have 2 BS degrees (hard sciences) and 5 AS degrees in various things (not all science). I also owned a media studio at one point. Worked in film. Worked in Business. And now I teach at a university. If there is a chance that I dont know what I am talking about, then you most assuredly do not know what you are talking about.

    • brandonio21

      What is your problem? You of all people, being a teacher, should know the value of fact-based argument. How is calling this article “a complete crock of horse manure” productive in any way? How is giving your credentials proof of your argument?

      Shame on you.

    • Marcus

      Because I am not a push over and it does not bother me to call people out when they are wrong. Also, if you were a teacher, you would understand that sometimes, the best education is to slap someone in the face (metaphorically) to wake them up. Its no different than yelling at your own child when they do something wrong. Last, I am fed up with BS. Almost everyone today is so full of themselves and our country is falling apart because no one is stepping in to stop it… even worse, we have complete idiots stepping in pretending they know what they are talking about when they do not (pick your favorite politician).

    • Gary Le

      You honestly haven’t done the math if your tax statistics are something that should hold weight in a fact based argument. For starters, someone who claims to have business experience should have taken a more granular approach. How much of your taxes subsidize higher education at the UC level? Off that number, what percent of that actually is being “wasted” on humanities?

      As a business professional, you should know the value of design and eloquence. Take your blacksmithing example for instance. The need for metalworking still exists, the same skills are needed, only the tools have expanded. The same exists in the humanities where design and communication have grown to acquire new tools for the 21st century.

      As a reminder that the past is still relevant, take a lesson in rhetoric. Your own interests and success have little weight or relevance to the argument of whether or not the topic of an editorial is objectively wrong. Your status as a teacher does, but weak evidence such as “knowing a metaphorical slap to the face” doesn’t hold water. In my brief years as a mentor, tutor, and instructional assistant, I’ve never seen a single study indicate verbal insults as an effective method.

      You advertise an ideology that is at the crux of our nation’s problems. If you forget the significance of the past, its historical implications, then you are doomed to repeat the same patterns of mistakes. This is a lesson in ethics and science. Every trial provides data, it would be unethical to constantly repeat an experiment simply because you feel it is right if there is data to the contrary.

      Technology from STEM without equal strides in ethical and sociocultural maturity result in our nation stagnating due to lack of creativity or ability to resolve new moral dilemmas.

    • henry

      You have 7 degrees yet a failure.

    • Marcus

      By what measure? I am a millionaire, I have a family and kids and I retired at a young age to do what I enjoy. What exactly is your measure? I suppose you can say I failed at not having kids when I was younger and I never could beat my friend at basketball (though I slaughtered everyone else on the varsity team :-).

    • henry

      Come back to the reality bb.

    • Marcus

      Your reality is destroying our country. Middle class marginalized, people like Hillary and Trump are on ballots, and folks like you seem to believe that your reality is a good one. Life is what you make of it. Grow up.

    • henry

      LOL so funny

    • Marcus

      I am here if you ever grow a pair and decide to make a cogent argument instead of trolling like a 12 year old.

    • henry

      You are the funniest guy in the world. Clown and loser.

    • Marcus

      If it makes you feel better to think so, go for it. But in the end, you are just lying to yourself to make yourself feel better about what you really are.

    • Paul Girard

      Marcus, you say you owned a media studio and worked in films, and have AS degrees, not all science. I wonder how much Arts and Humanities rubbed off on you back then (and whether you might have had some art/music courses in ELHI). If you did, that may have contributed to your success in academia and business. It has been shown that students that take music in school average significantly higher in SAT tests than those that don’t. Brains grow additional connections when learning music. So education in the arts would benefit all the STEM curricula, acting like a “force multiplier”, a lever to lift the world of STEM. a muscle-building technique for the brain. Business is looking for Creativity in their STEM employees, which the arts foster, thus STEAM is the way to get the engine running. But, in order to have arts classes, there has to be an arts culture and people who learn about the arts at a prestigious U, not just community college, yet not Juilliard, either. They become the maintainers of the culture and the enablers of the STEM curricula at all levels. Everyone would benefit from a minor in the arts, or at least a few classes.

    • Cecil Lynch

      As a “science nerd” I have to agree with Paul and also wonder how much of the humanities rubbed off on Marcus to help him succeed. I was an undergrad chem major and went on to do my PhD work in a related discipline, then an MD and finally an MS in Computer Science. I did take humanities courses along the way though and credit a great deal of my success in my science studies to a book by Sister Miriam Joseph called “the trivium: the liberal arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric” . I think it should be mandatory in any science curriculum. I have a son starting at UCSD in Electrical Engineering this fall and will certainly urge him to read it and to also understand the importance of the humanities to our capabilities in science as well as an enricher of our lives in general. I would also point out that my English lit wife is at least as good as I am in mathematics (probably better) and much better in logic and reasoning, partly because of her education in literature that is all about understanding the widely varying ways humans think and express themselves. In my mind that training would be good for every college student, not just the lit and humanities majors.

    • James

      I don’t believe you.

    • Marcus

      Dont care.

  • Michelle Thompson

    Without arts and humanities, UCSD ends up like Uber.